Tension Headache Cause

Headache research scientists used to believe that the primary cause of tension headaches was sustained muscle tension. However, many now believe that more complex factors are involved. In many cases, a person's tension headache can be linked to things such as depression, poor posture, or temporary stress.

What Causes Tension Headaches?

The exact cause of tension headaches is not known. Tension headaches have not been linked to hormones or foods, as migraines have (see Migraine Triggers or Migraine Food Triggers). There also does not appear to be a strong hereditary connection.
In the past, many headache research scientists believed that the primary tension headache cause was sustained muscle tension. However, a growing number of authorities now believe that a far more complex mechanism is responsible for this condition.

Risk Factors for Tension Headaches

While not specific causes of tension headaches, certain factors can increase a person's risk for developing this type of headache. Specific risk factors include:
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Temporary stress, fatigue, or anger
  • Poor posture
  • People who move their neck and shoulders a lot
  • People who work at stationary, repetitive tasks
  • Certain chronic conditions.
Research has shown that for many people, chronic tension headaches are caused by depression and anxiety. These people tend to get their headaches in the early morning or evening when conflicts in the office or home are anticipated.
Emotional factors are not the only triggers of a tension headache. Certain physical postures that tense head and neck muscles -- such as holding one's chin down while reading -- can lead to head and neck pain. So can prolonged writing under poor light, or holding a phone between the shoulder and ear, or even chewing gum.
People who move their neck and shoulders a lot (such as a beautician) or people who work at stationary, repetitive tasks (such as assembly workers) are also at increased risk for tension headaches.
More serious problems that can cause a tension headache include degenerative arthritis of the neck and temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMD. TMD is a disorder of the joint between the temporal bone (above the ear) and the mandible or lower jaw bone. The disorder results from poor bite and jaw clenching.
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Tension Headache

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