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Tension Headache: Care Instructions


Most headaches are tension headaches. Some people get them often, especially if they have a lot of stress in their lives.

This kind of headache may cause pain or a feeling of pressure all over your head. Sometimes it's hard to know where the centre of the pain is.

If you get a lot of these kind of headaches, the best way to reduce them is to find out what's causing them. Then you can make changes in those areas.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Rest in a quiet, dark room. Put a cool cloth on your forehead. Close your eyes, and try to relax or go to sleep. Do not watch TV, read, or use the computer.
  • Use a warm, moist towel or a heating pad set on low to relax tight shoulder and neck muscles.
  • Have someone gently massage your neck and shoulders.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Be careful not to take more pain medicine than the instructions say. This is because you may get worse or more frequent headaches when the medicine wears off.
  • If you get a headache, stop what you are doing and sit quietly for a moment. Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Try to relax your head and neck muscles.
  • Pay attention to any new symptoms you have when you have a headache. These include a fever, weakness or numbness, vision changes, or confusion. They may be signs of a more serious problem.

To help prevent headaches

  • Keep a headache diary. This can help you and your doctor figure out what triggers your headaches. If you avoid your triggers, you may be able to prevent headaches.
  • It's good to include several things in your headache diary. Write down when a headache begins and how long it lasts. Try to describe what the pain was like (throbbing, aching, stabbing, or dull). Then add anything you think may have triggered the headache. This could include stress, anxiety, or depression. It could also include hunger, anger, or fatigue. Sometimes, bad posture and muscle strain are triggers for people.
  • Find healthy ways to deal with stress. Headaches are most common during or right after stressful times. Take time to relax before and after you do something that caused a headache in the past.
  • Get plenty of exercise every day. Go for a walk or jog, ride a bike, or find other ways to be active. This can help with stress and muscle tension.
  • Get regular sleep.
  • Eat regularly and well. If you wait too long to eat, it can trigger a headache.
  • If you have the time and money, you may want to try massage. Some people find that regular massages really help relieve tension.
  • Try to use good posture and keep the muscles of your jaw, face, neck, and shoulders relaxed. If you sit at a desk, change positions often. Try to stretch for 30 seconds every hour.
  • If you use a computer a lot, you can do things to make your eyes less tired. Try blinking more and sometimes looking away from the screen. Be sure to use glasses or contacts if you need them. And check that your monitor is about an arm's distance away from you.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have signs of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse nausea and vomiting.
  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • Your headache gets much worse.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better after 2 days (48 hours).

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.