Most of us have experienced it – the pain that creeps up on you – the constant band of pressure or throbbing sensation, like a vise grip on your head, creeping down into your neck and shoulders. You can’t concentrate, and you become irritable and cranky. You are the unlucky soul stricken with a tension headache. The good news is – you are not alone. It is estimated over 45 million people suffer from tension headaches. While some are bothered by the occasional pain-in-the-head, others are plagued with daily, chronic pain. And, unfortunately, the longer the pain stays with you, the more likely you will suffer from other annoying disturbances in your daily life, such as general muscle aches, fatigue and difficulties sleeping or staying asleep. And, as symptoms linger, you chances for a rebound headache increase.
The Tension Headache
Tension headaches, commonly known as muscular contraction headaches, are the most common form of headaches. It can strike anyone, anytime, for a variety of reasons. Most common reasons include stress, emotional or physical, changes in sleep patterns and skipping meals. The pain is mild-to-moderate and can range from a tight or heavy pressure on your skull, radiating down into your neck and shoulders, to a constant band-like pain or even throbbing sensation.
The pain can come on gradually or suddenly, striking without warning any time during the day. Although the pain is not usually severe, it can begin upon waking in the morning and last several days. Both muscular contraction and blood supply play a role in the tension headache. When the muscles contract, or tighten, they tend to become very tender, which may last long after the muscles release. Blood vessels may be constricted, or squeezed by this tightening of muscles, leading to a decrease in the blood supply to your head. The periodic dilating of these vessels may account for the throbbing sensation you may experience.
Many things contribute to the tension headache. Stress, for example, is a significant source of the tension headache, as is awkward neck positions or poor posture. Any activity which causes you to hold your head in a rigid position can cause them – computer use, watch TV and reading are prime examples. Certain facial expressions can also lead to pain – gum chewing, squinting and teeth grinding all play a significant role.ï¿½
The muscle contraction headache is classified into two major types – acute and episodic. The acute sufferer will experience mild to moderate pain, usually dull and achy in nature, whereas the episodic sufferer may experience pain anywhere in the head and down the neck and shoulders. Muscle contraction headaches can lead to chronic headaches or what experts call rebound headaches.
Chronic headaches may last several days to several weeks, even months, with constant pain or at least one pain episode per day. Chronic headache sufferers often require some sort of medical attention due to the fact that the headache no longer responds to over-the-counter medications. Excessive use of even mild over-the-counter pain aids can lead to a rebound headache.ï¿½
Some tips to coping with a tension headache:ï¿½
Use over-the-counter pain aids with caution. Chances are, if one dose didn’t work, another one won’t either – and avoid over-medicating. Only take the prescribed amount.
Try some stress relief. Go get a bit of fresh air, try deep breathing or meditation, take preventative measures to keep stress in check, such as getting up a little earlier to avoid rushing; Use a notebook to remember important information; Keep equipment, such as cars and computers in good working order. Take the time for a good regular tune up or preventative maintenance measures to ensure no “break-downs” will occur at the worst possible times; Plan ahead – make sure your tank is never running on empty, and make sure you show up early to catch that flight; Try being more flexible and open – let the dishes wait till later and go have some outdoor fun; Unplug your phone to take a long uninterrupted soak in the tub; Know your limitations and learn the word “no”; forgive and forget; Go visit an old friend; Always try to get enough sleep, and avoid the temptation to “sleep-in” on the weekends – disrupting sleep patterns can cause pain; Take short but frequent stretching breaks at work; Let it out- have a good laugh – or cry – or, yes, even scream (hopefully alone). Pent up emotions can surely lead to pain-in-the-head.ï¿½
If your headaches are still out of control, not matter what you do, don’t hesitate to seek out professional assistance. Your primary physician may be able to prescribe a medication that will aid in your quest for pain relief.
Rebound headaches are a common with over-use or extensive use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications. If taking a OTC for more than three days, withdrawal symptoms are often the culprit to that headache. This leads you to grab for more, but over-using these pain relievers interferes with the part of the brain that regulates the flow of pain messages to your nerves. The result – worsening of headache pain.ï¿½
Rebound headaches are also common when taking medications with caffeine. Caffeine makes the pain relief faster and more effective, yet adding caffeine, such as a cup of java, when taking these medications can worsen symptoms. So, take care and watch your caffeine intake when using these pain relievers.ï¿½
To avoid the intensified pain of a rebound headache, take OTC’s as directed. Do not take three, for example when the directions clearly state using two. Do not take for an extended period of time. If you are plagued with frequent recurrent headaches, seek professional medical advice.ï¿½
If you do experience the excruciating rebound headache, do not continue taking that OTC medication. Your body needs to detoxify. If symptom intensity increases beyond your limits, consult your physician to help.