Tension headaches: High levels of stress can increase frequency, study shows

Tension headachesIf you’re stressed out these days, you’re not alone. Tension or stress headaches are the most common kind of headache which Americans suffer from. Close to 90 percent of women and approximately 70 percent of men suffer from the aches and pressure of stress headaches at some point in their lives. And many live with the debilitating pain on a regular basis.

Linking stress and tension headache frequency

Although an association between stress and headaches is a common topic for discussion in the medical community, new research has linked high levels of stress to an increase in the number of headaches a person gets.


A research team from Germany’s Hospital at the University Duisburg-Essen examined the headache and stress levels of more than 5,000 people between the ages of 21 and 71 over a two-year period.

The participants reported on the number of headaches they experienced each month and the level of stress on a scale of 0 to 100 that they encountered. A huge 31 percent of the headache sufferers experienced a tension-type headache, 14 percent reported migraines, and 11 percent said they had a tension headache combined with a migraine. Seventeen percent had a non-classified headache.

Those who reported a tension headache also said their stress levels were at an average of 52 out of 100. For every increase in 10 points on the stress scale, there appeared to be a 6.3 percent increase in the number of headaches in a month.

The researchers took other headache factors into consideration, including eating, smoking, and alcohol consumption habits, and were still able to conclude that the more stress a person had, the more headaches they experienced each month.

Ongoing tension headaches hit hard

Frequent stress headaches can impact the quality of a person’s life. People who are constantly in pain tend to miss work, withdraw from family and friends, and sometimes turn to medications to relieve the pressure. Those who frequently medicate, find that once they stop taking the medications, they may get more headaches because their body has become accustomed to the painkillers. Most medical professionals will recommend starting with alternatives to painkillers before prescribing the medication.

How to fight tension headaches

Many headache sufferers have found that relaxation techniques go a long way in helping them bring their nervous system back into balance. There are a variety of relaxation techniques to choose from including yoga, tai chi, and basic meditation. Stress experts suggest setting aside just 10 to 20 minutes each day to practice relaxation.

Biofeedback is a stress therapy that is gaining more and more attention, where trained professionals attach electrodes to a person’s skin to detect electrical signals from the muscles. It is then easier to recognize when you are becoming tense and find ways to relax muscles before they tighten up and cause a headache.

The truth is, any activity that brings you joy and comfort can be considered a relaxation technique. This could be sitting in a sauna, or lying down in a hammock and staring at the clouds. The point is to relieve the tension that is consuming you.

If you think you might be suffering from frequent stress-related headaches, don’t suffer in silence, talk to your doctor about which safe solutions might be best for you.

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