Published: July 27, 2012
If you have a tension headache, the culprit is probably identifiable. Spat with your mate? Under a tight deadline at work? A long drive? Stuck in traffic? The muscles around your skull ball up, as if someone gradually pulled a drawstring. You feel a dull, aching sensation in a narrow band around your entire head. What can you do to quickly relieve the pain?
Heat it up. A hot-water bottle or heating pad applied at the first sign of a tension headache can help the tightened muscles relax.
Battle your headache with biofeedback. Have your doctor recommend an instructor in biofeedback. In six to ten sessions you can learn to relax the muscles that are squeezing your head into an ache. Biofeedback works wonders to 80 percent of those who learn it.
Find an acupuncturist. Acupuncture is usually used as a last resort for chronic headaches, but consider trying it as a first resort. Improvement rates of 55 to 85 percent have been reported, according to Alexander Mauskop, M.D., director of the Downstate Headache Center in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
Take the tension out with TENS. In about 10 minutes, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can short-circuit headaches caused by shoulder area stiffness, says Gary W. Jay, M.D. He gave 50 patients at his Beverly Hills Pain Control Center portable TENS units to use at home for 10 minutes twice a day. The device emits electrical current that relaxes muscle spasms in the neck and upper back. About half the patients were also given massages, ultrasound, and special exercises in addition to the TENS. After six months, all of the TENS users were almost headache-free, regardless of whether they had supplemented the treatment with other therapies.
Electrify your cranium. Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) many reduce the painn in as little as 20 minutes’ time according to a six-week study of 100 headache sufferers at the Headache Unit of Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. The doctors found that those who used the Pain Suppressor unit for 20 minutes reprted that their pain decreased by an average of 35 percent. Those who used a noactive device reported that their pain decreased by an average of 18 percent. About 3 percent of the people who used the device reported slight skin irritation.
The Pain Suppressor C.E.S (made by Pain Suppression Labs in Wayne, New Jersey) comes with sponge electrodes that you attach to your temples with the accompanying Velcro strap. The unit delivers an adjustable amount of high-frequency, low-voltage current, and automatically shuts itself off after 20 minutes. The device is available only by prescription.
Gulp your analgesic. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are proven headache pain relievers—they usually work within half an hour. But they should be used only for the occasional headache. Modern headache therapy is turning more and more to nondrug remedies because chronic use of analgesics can be dangerous: Aspirin and ibuprofen can harm your stomach, and acetaminophen can cause liver damage. And if you’ve been taking two or more tablets daily for three months or more, you could set yourself up for a rebound headache whenever you don’t take them. If you’re taking an analgesic every day for a chronic headache, ask your doctor for another pain-relief method.
Tension headaches are actually normal to be experienced by anyone irrespective of age, gender and status. However, if it becomes chronic, it is always advisable to visit a physician as it may be a sign of something more sinister inside the body.