Though migraines are most often talked about, tension headaches are actually the most common type of headache. If you've ever experienced mild to moderate pain in your head that feels like tightening around your skull, you've experienced a tension headache. But tension headache relief isn't difficult to come by. There are a number of ways to alleviate the pain of a tension headache—from changing up your environment to seeking the hands of a professional.
Below, we've outlined nine effective ways for easing the pain of a tension headache that can be combined or tried on their own. If tension headaches are a regular problem, or even if you only suffer from them from time to time, it's worth having the below strategies in your arsenal to relieve the pain. Keep scrolling for nine ways to find fast and effective tension headache relief.
Relaxation and Breathing
Because tension headaches are often caused by stress, researchers have found that mind-body therapy techniques like deep breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxation can help relieve the pain. Deeply inhale repeatedly, exhaling slowly. Close your eyes and envision something peaceful, continuing with deep, steady breaths.
During a tension headache, muscles around the skull are clenched. A number of studies have found massage to not only reduce headache duration, but also reduce headache frequency when compared to baseline measured. Massaging your head, neck, and shoulders and targeting areas that feel particularly tense can help to loosen up these muscles, thereby alleviating the pain the current pain and helping to prevent future episodes. For chronic tension headache sufferers, it might be worth it to seek professional deep tissue massages, which have been studied to show a decrease in neck pain as well as other physiological benefits.
Resting in a Dark and Quiet Place
Much like inducing relaxation through deep breathing and meditative techniques, resting in a dark, quiet place can help reduce the stress that may be inciting your tension headache. When you are experiencing a headache, it's not uncommon that you become sensitive to light and sound.
Heat and Cold
Applying heat or cold to your neck and head can help relieve the muscle tension associated with tension headaches. A warm towel or hot shower can help soothe the pain, and by the same token, an ice pack applied the to neck, forehead, or temples can have a similar soothing effect.
Like a head massage, acupressure can provide tension headache relief. By focusing on a specific area—like the depressions on each side of your nape—and applying pressure in targeted, circular movements, you can reduce the tension and ease headache pain.
Acupuncture has also been known to provide tension headache relief. Studies have shown that acupuncture practiced as preventive therapy can reduce the likelihood of the recipient experience tension headaches. An acupuncture specialist can pinpoint the areas of the neck and shoulders to release the body's natural painkillers.
If you regularly suffer from tension headaches, you may want to consider neck exercises that specifically target the source of tension. You can rest your forehead on your flattened palm, then press your head gently into your hand.
Of course, there are always over-the-counter medications that can help reduce the pain of a tension headache. Regular ibuprofen use can begin to damage the liver, so if you find yourself needing to pop painkillers often for tension headache relief, you should consider more holistic methods—or meeting with your doctor—to address possible causes and find solutions.
If you do take over-the-counter painkillers, caffeine can actually expedite their effect. Additionally, if you're a regular coffee drinker, you may want to consider whether your caffeine intake (or caffeine withdrawal) is influencing the headaches you feel.
Next up: Check out one editor's 30-second cure for tension headaches.