Adult Understanding Pain

Published on 09th October 2017

Edited on 09th October 2017


A tension headache is the most common type of headache which lots of people will have experienced at some point in their lives. They can occur in any person of any age, although women are more likely to suffer from tension headaches than men.

What is a tension headache?

A tension headache is one of the most common types of headache, and the one often thought of as the “normal” or “regular” headache. The cause of tension-type isn’t always clear but common triggers can include stress, poor posture, and anxiety.

What is a migraine headache?

As the symptoms of tension headaches are similar to those of a migraine, determining which you have can be difficult. It is crucial to be able to tell the two apart to make sure you treat the problem correctly. Migraine sufferers may describe it as a throbbing pain on one side of the head whereas a tension headache typically effects both sides. A migraine cannot only be debilitating, but those that experience this condition can also experience various other symptoms including; nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Find out more about migraines.

Symptoms of tension headaches

If you feel you are suffering from a tension headache, look out for the following symptoms:

  • a constant ache on both sides of the head
  • tight neck muscles
  • pressure behind the eyes

A tension headache usually lasts for a few hours, but unlike a migraine, a tension headache does not normally inhibit your ability to go about your in day-to-day activities.Experiencing tension headaches more than 15 times a month, for at least 3 months, would be classed as chronic or persistent tension headaches. If your headaches are persistent or severe you should see you GP.

What causes tension headaches?

A tension headache can be identified as a ‘primary headache’, which means it is not caused by underlying condition. Though you will be hard-pressed to find a single cause for tension headaches, certain situations have been identified as potential triggers for tension headaches. These include:

  • stress - emotional or mental stress, including depression
  • anxiety
  • bad posture
  • fatigue
  • certain foods
  • eyestrain or squinting to read
  • caffeine
  • bright sunlight
  • noise
  • odours
  • hormones – some women may be more likely to experience a tension headache during their period

Tension headache relief

Tension headaches can be treated with painkillers or lifestyle changes, see some suggestions below:

Relaxation Techniques

Stress-related problems can be eased by lifestyle changes or new hobbies. Taking time out for yoga, massages and exercise can help you relax.

Home Remedies

For primary headaches, try home remedies. Relieve your symptoms with a hot flannel to your forehead or neck.

Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers 

Painkillers are commonly recommended to help relieve tension headache symptoms. It is advisable to take painkillers as soon as you start to feel the effects of a headache coming on. Nurofen Express contains Ibuprofen which can help to provide a headache sufferer with up to eight hours of pain relief.*

It is important to note that medications don't cure headaches but help to offer relief. Taking painkillers long term is not recommended. Be sure to follow the instructions. If your headache symptoms persist, or you are unsure about product usage, please seek medical advice from your pharmacist or GP. 

How can a tension headache be prevented?

There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent tension headaches, such as:

Manage Stress and Tension

It is advisable to find ways to relax when you feel a headache coming on. Taking a break, regular exercise and relaxation techniques, i.e. deep breathing and meditation, can play a crucial role in easing the stress and tension that is triggering your headache. Be mindful of when you are about to experience a tension headache so that you are better prepared to handle the situation.

Avoid Dehydration and Eat Well

Did you know that your diet can play a role in the frequency, duration and intensity of a headache? What you consume is important, so try to maintain a healthy weight and balanced diet, and be sure to drink enough water throughout the day to keep your body fully hydrated.

Don’t forget your posture

Awkward positioning can give rise to posture problems - tense shoulders, neck or scalp muscles - which will contribute to the eventual tension headache. The effects of poor posture cannot be overstated so be mindful of it while you are working or sleeping.

Get Enough Rest

Altered sleep patterns can trigger headaches, so try to get the recommended six to nine hours of good quality sleep per night. To get the best chance of a good nights’ sleep, create a relaxing sleeping environment by ensuring complete peace, quiet, darkness and optimum comfort. Allow yourself some time to wind down before going to bed.

Avoid the causes or triggers

It is advisable to keep a headache diary if you get tension headaches often. Individual situations are nuanced, and so a diary will help to pinpoint the potential causes of your problem and help you make the necessary changes to prevent experiencing tension headaches frequently. It is also very useful information for your GP, should you decide to seek medical help.

When should I see the doctor?

An occasional headache should not warrant a visit to your doctor. However, seek medical advice if you are experiencing:

  • a unique pain and unlike any other (previous) experience that comes on suddenly
  • a headache as a result of a head injury
  • severe, frequent or persistent symptoms
  • other symptoms including; stiff neck, weakness, fever, nausea, vomiting, numbness, slurred speech and confusion

For any of the above be sure to seek professional medical help immediately.


Nurofen Express 200mg Tablets contain Ibuprofen (as Sodium dihydrate). For pain relief. Always read the label. Nurofen also works on other parts of the body and is indicated for other aches and pains.

*with 400mg dose