Headache is common, and almost everyone experiences it at some point. For some, it lasts very briefly, while others suffer from headaches almost constantly. Not all headaches are the same; there are many different types of headaches. Although headaches can be quite bothersome, the cause of headaches is rarely serious. This blog will delve into tension-type headaches, also known as muscle tension headaches.
What is Tension-Type Headache?
Tension-type headache (TTH) is commonly referred to as muscle tension headache or tension headache. This is the most common form of headache. The 1-year prevalence of this type of headache is 48%, meaning that about half of the population experiences this type of headache within a year.
A tension headache is often described as if there is a tight band around the head. It is felt on both sides of the head and is characterized by a constricting sensation rather than a throbbing one. The intensity of the headache is mild to moderate, meaning that it is not so severe as to make everyday activities impossible. Unlike migraine, physical activity does not exacerbate the pain. The duration of the headache varies from a few hours to days, and it may be accompanied by intolerance to light (photophobia), intolerance to sound (phonophobia), or slight nausea (without vomiting).
Tension-type headache is classified into different forms based on the duration of the headache. These include infrequent episodic TTH (less than 1 day per month), frequent episodic TTH (< 15 days per month), chronic TTH (> 15 days per month), and probable TTH. In cases of probable TTH, some symptoms may be absent or differ, leading to the term “probable TTH.”
What Causes TTH?
The exact cause of muscle tension headache is not certain. There have been recent indications that various factors could play a role in its development, such as local muscle tension/trigger points, referred pain, and peripheral/central sensitization.
Trigger points can result in increased local muscle tension in the neck and shoulder region. These trigger points might stem from heightened biochemical activity in the affected muscles. Stress, for instance, could contribute to this increased biochemical activity, hence the term “tension headache.” However, stress is not necessarily the sole cause. If this heightened activity persists, it could lead to some confusion in the nervous system, resulting in peripheral sensitization. This entails a sort of miscommunication in the transmission of signals between the neck and shoulder region and the brain.
Referred pain is, in short, pain felt in a location other than where the actual pain stimulus originates. For example, a problem in the neck can cause pain to radiate to the head. In this case, you would feel the pain in your head, but the actual source of the issue lies in the neck.
Treatment of TTH
Tension headaches can often be effectively treated when its source is partly in the neck. Therefore, it’s always worthwhile to schedule an appointment with Orthomedix if you experience headaches accompanied by neck pain. We will work with you to determine whether the headache is caused by a neck or upper back issue. There are various interventions we can employ to help resolve the problem.
For targeted and efficient treatment, consider making an appointment with Orthomedix. We will work together with you to identify the cause of the issue and develop a personalized treatment plan.
Feel free to contact us via the contact form or call one of our clinics.
Sources: ICHD-3, 2018; ihs-headache.org; NHG-standaard Hoofdpijn; Shah et al, 2005; Schoenen et al, 2008; Bendtsen, 2011; Sohn, 2013; Arendt-Nielsen et al, 2016.