Are you suffering from Tension Headaches?

Are you suffering from Tension Headaches?

Tension Headaches are the most common form of primary headache. It happens intermittently in up to 80% of the population, so if you are suffering from frequent headaches with pain that tends to be on both sides, and pressing or tightening in nature of mild to moderate intensity you can start with looking into your headaches with a Physiotherapist.

Tension Headache sufferers can experience symptoms such as nausea and photophobia (hypersensitive to light) phonophobia (hypersensitive to sound), but usually only one of these symptoms.

How is a Tension Headache Diagnosed?

There is no one specific test that identifies a tension type headache. Your diagnosis will be made based on your pattern of symptoms and how you respond to different treatments, to relieve your tension and joint stiffness. Tension Headaches can respond very quickly to muscle release and joint therapy.

What about X-rays, CT-scans and MRI?

Unfortunately X-rays, CT-scans and MRI’s are not diagnostic of a tension headache. You can suffer a tension type headache with or without some abnormal findings on X-rays or scans. Likewise, scan abnormalities do not guarantee that you will experience a tension headache.

However, X-rays and scans may identify structures that could potentially be causing your tension type headache. We recommend that you have at least cervical spine X-rays if you have been suffering headaches or head pain for any extended period, your Physiotherapist can refer you for this.

How Can Physiotherapy Help You?

Quality neck Physiotherapy can have a very quick and effective result for relieving your tension headache through relaxation of muscles under excessive tension. It is also important to remember that excessive muscle tension will compress, distort or irritate joint structures that cause neck headache, which will further complicate your symptoms.

Your tension type headache treatment may include all or some of the following techniques:

  • Stiff neck joints may need to be loosened or unlocked via joint mobilisation (gentle gliding techniques), joint traction or in specific cases a gentle and localised joint manipulation technique.
  • Hypermobile (or dynamically unstable) joints may require specific deep neck muscle strengthening exercises to stabilise, control and limit the joint movement available.
  • Tight or overactive muscles may require stretching, massage, acupuncture, dry needling, or other relaxation techniques.
  • Weak muscles may require specific strengthening exercises. This may include your postural shoulder blade and neck muscles.
  • Nerve dysfunction may be addressed by your physiotherapist depending upon your specific examination findings. Neurosensitivity is a common finding that needs to addressed with cautious professional care and attention.
  • Posture correction may be recommended via specific exercises, posture awareness techniques, taping or a posture brace.
  • Helpful advice on how to prevent neck dysfunction in the future eg awkward neck positions and postures to avoid.

In our experience, finding the primary source of your headache or migraine is the key to successful management.

At Arnhem Physiotherapy Services, we have a special interest in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of neck headache, tension type headache and stress headache.

Headache RED FLAGS!

If you have any of the above Red Flags symptoms, we strongly recommend that you seek the advice of your doctor or an emergency department immediately.

All Red Flags MUST be thoroughly investigated!

We urge you to check with your doctor to investigate further if your headaches have any of the following characteristics:

  • Sudden or severe headache – “thunderclap” type headache.
  • New or “different” headache to your normal type.
  • Your “worst headache ever”!
  • Signs of neurological complications e.g. muscle weakness, memory loss, confusion, behaviour changes, reduced alertness or meningismus (stiff neck + photophobia + headache).
  • New headache onset over the age of 40 to 50 years.
  • Headaches at night or waking in the morning.
  • Headache associated with systemic symptoms e.g. weight loss, fever, nausea or vomiting.
  • Onset of headache after cough or sneeze, exercise or head turning.
  • New onset of a headache during or following pregnancy.
  • A previous history of cancer.

Can an Unsupportive Pillow Cause Tension Type Headaches?

Yes. Unfortunately, a non-supportive pillow or one not suited to your neck can predispose you to neck pain or tension type headache.

If you suffer neck pain or headache, it is wise to ask for the professional advice of your physiotherapist regarding what pillow style and size they would recommend for you.

Pillows do vary and the best one for your neck shape and body size will help you prevent neck pain and neck headache.


At Arnhem Physiotherapy Services, we have a special interest in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of neck headache, tension type headache and stress headache.

For more information, please ask your physiotherapist or make a booking by calling the clinic on 8987 0296, book online or on our Facebook page!

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