Many women lead stressful, fast-paced lives. It’s no wonder that tension headaches are so common. Just like migraine headaches, tension headaches have specific symptoms, triggers, and risk factors. But tension headaches are muscular, not vascular, and the triggers tend to be physical and stress-related factors.
What are Tension Headaches?
Tension, the most common form of headache, is caused by muscle contractions in the neck, scalp, forehead, and face. Simply, tension headaches are the product of tightening muscles caused by such things as emotional stress or physical straining.
Tension headaches fall into two categories: episodic and chronic. Episodic headaches happen on an infrequent basis, with no specific pattern of occurrence. Chronic tension headaches, on the other hand, occur on a regular basis, at least 15 days out of a one-month period.
Symptoms of Tension Headaches
Tension headaches differ from other types of primary headaches by their degree of pain. Whereas migraine and cluster headaches are usually severe and stabbing, tension-type pain is generally more diffuse (spread out) and pressured. Sufferers might describe the pain as “tightening, dull, and achy.”
Tension headache pain can exist in the head, neck, and even extend into the shoulders. Duration can be as brief as a half hour to as long as several days.
Women with tension headaches don’t experience “migraine-like” symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound. These such neurological symptoms differentiate tension headaches from migraine headaches.
Common tension headache symptoms include:
- head, face, neck, and/or shoulder pain and “tightness”
- impaired concentration
Tension Headache Triggers
Headaches can be triggered by various factors, including:
- family problems
- work situations
- school work
- poor posture or straining neck muscles
- eye strain
Certain situations increase the risk for developing tension headaches. Women who work in stressful, high-pressure fields are more prone to this type of headache. College students can develop them due to the stress of school work. Physical stress can also trigger such headaches.
Anything that causes emotional strain can put a woman at risk for developing tension headaches. Major life changes such as a new marriage, the birth of a child, job changes, separation and divorce, and the death of a loved one can trigger tension-type headaches. Ongoing stress can cause episodic headaches to become chronic. Even experiencing a bout of depression can cause tension headaches.
Physical risk factors include poor posture, stooping, sitting in an uncomfortable position too long, eye straining, and physically straining neck and shoulder muscles.