What Is a Tension Headache?


A tension headache is the most common type of headache. It involves mild to moderate pain that typically feels like a band squeezing the head. It is often associated with muscle tightness. Tension headaches are also known as muscle tension headaches, stress headaches, or ordinary headaches.


Tension headaches are categorized into two types: episodic and chronic.

  • Episodic tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to 7 days. These headaches are considered to be infrequent if they occur less than 12 times per year or frequent if they occur between 1 and 14 days per month on average.
  • Chronic tension headaches usually last longer and may be continuous. They occur on 15 or more days per month for at least three months.


Symptoms of a tension headache include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Dull pain, typically on both sides of the head
  • A sensation of pressure or a tight band on the head
  • Tenderness or pain in the scalp, neck or shoulders
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping


The exact cause of tension headaches is not known. They may occur as the result of neck and scalp muscles contracting and becoming tense. Common triggers for tension headaches include the following:

  • Stress
  • Dental issues, such as teeth grinding
  • Any activity that requires holding the head in one position for a long time
  • Eye strain
  • Fatigue

Risk factors

Anyone at any age can experience a tension headache. However, tension headaches are most common in adults and teenagers. They are also slightly more common in women than men and tend to run in families.

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