6 Ways to Relieve Tension Headaches

6 Ways to Relieve Tension Headaches

If you’re reading this you’ve probably experienced that dull ache in your forehead that makes it very difficult to concentrate. For most, when this happens the first thing we reach for is an over-the-counter medication that only gives us only temporally relief. 

Did you know there are ways you can relieve tension headaches naturally without side effects?

But first, what is a tension headache?

Tension headaches are characterized as episodic mild to moderate pains that occur on both sides of the head. They are usually caused by muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and head. Additionally, a study published in the International Headache Society found that people who experienced tension headaches had significantly weaker neck muscles than those who didn’t experience headaches (Source: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0333102415576726). This suggests having weaker neck muscles may be a modifiable risk factor for tension headaches.

Reducing tension and improving strength in your neck, mid-back and shoulders can reduce your tension headache frequency and pain intensity. In this article we will explore these strategies further and provide other techniques to get control of your tension headache pain.

What causes tension headaches?

There are many causes of tension headaches, but a very common one is tension in your neck and upper body muscles. The head, neck and mid-back are very interconnected, so tension in one area can cause symptoms in another.

Additionally, tension headaches may be influenced by daily activities or lifestyle factors such as:

  • Eye strain – blue light from your phone, computer, tv, and tablet.
  • Poor posture habits – your posture habits affect how much tension you’ll experience in your upper body.
  • Emotional stress

Tension headache symptoms include

  • Dull, aching feeling of pressure across your forehead or on the sides of the head. The pain may also be pulsating in nature 
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Tender to touch around the top of your head and forehead.
  • Trouble concentrating

Try these tips from Maple Health Care & Rehab

How to get rid of a tension headache

1.) Strengthen the muscles in the upper back

First, it’s important to strengthen the muscles in your upper body. Going to Physiotherapy can help you determine the best way to strengthen them.

2.) Improve neck and mid-back mobility 

Many people who suffer from tension headaches also experience tightness into their necks and mid-backs. This tension can be a major contributor to tension headaches. Below are some ways to relieve mid-back and neck tension to help with your headaches.

1.) Shoulder Rolls: Roll your shoulders upwards, forwards, downwards  and then backwards. Then repeat in the opposite direction. Make sure try pinching your shoulder blades together during the backward motion. Complete 10 times each way.

2.) Side neck stretch: Use your left hand and pull your head down to the left until you feel a good stretch on the right side of the neck. Hold for 10 seconds. Then repeat with the opposite hand and side.

3.) Mid-back stretch: Grasp your hands behind your head and look up. Then press your chest upwards while pinching your shoulder blades together. You should feel a stretch in the mid-back. Hold for 10 seconds.

3.) Spinal adjustment

Research shows that spinal adjustment (what chiropractors use) can relieve headaches.

As I mentioned before, a lot tension headaches are the result of tension in your neck. This is becoming more and more common as we spend more time in front of screens. The tension in the neck can send referral pain to the areas where we typically feel tension headaches.

A chiropractic adjustment can help relieve tension in the neck and help reduce the frequency and intensity of your headaches.

Behind the scenes of a chiropractic adjustment courtesy of My Life Rehab

4.) Limit blue light

Blue light is the light that is emitted from your phone, computer, TV and  tablets.

Photophobia, which is a sensitivity to light, is a common feature of tension headaches. Excess blue light exposure can also make existing headaches worse. 

Limiting your blue light exposure can be very helpful for tension headache pain. 

5.) Try a self massage

You can spend a few minutes massaging your neck, forehead, and temples which can help release tension headaches. You can apply a gentle rotating pressure to these areas.

6.) Hydrate

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Dehydration is a cause of headaches and can make them worse!

There you have it, 6 ways to help give you tension headache relief. Now if you would like to visit a Chiropractor or Physiotherapist to identify the root causes of your tension headaches just click the “find a clinic near me” button on this page.

Do you suffer from headaches? Here are so easy tips you can do at home to help courtesy of ProActive Rehab


This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a physiotherapist or chiropractor on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation on this session is to find out whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pain medications only offer temporary relief and for some none at all. Medication does not treat the cause of the tension headaches, it only treats the effect.

They can last for a couple of hours to weeks at a time.

Doctors usually recommend ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB). You should consult with your family doctor before starting medication for tension-type headaches.

About Taylor Sipos

Taylor is a physiotherapist at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic located in Toronto, Ontario. He treats patients with various musculoskeletal conditions using patient education, exercise therapy, manual therapy and acupuncture. His treatment philosophy involves giving his patient’s the means to self-manage their injuries. He does this through reassurance, education and health promotion. Taylor uses the same principles as a patient educator at Pain Hero. He aims to provide you with high-quality, easy to understand information to teach you about your condition and how to improve it.

Medical Disclaimer:

The information presented in this blog post is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, treatment or a diagnosis, consult with a medical professional such as one suggested on this website. The Clinic Accelerator Inc. and the author of this page are not liable for the associated risks of using or acting upon the information contained in this article.

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