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Tension Headache in Children: Care Instructions


Headaches are a common problem for children. Tension headaches are often caused or "triggered" by physical or emotional stress. Other triggers include feeling fatigued, skipping meals, and grinding or clenching teeth. Frequent use of pain medicine can also make tension headaches more frequent and severe.

Most headaches in children are not a sign of a more serious problem and will get better on their own. Home treatment may help your child feel better faster.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

Here are some steps you can take to treat your child's tension headaches at home.

  • Have your child rest in a quiet, dark room. Most headaches will go away within 24 hours with rest or sleep. Watching TV or reading can often make the headache worse.
  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Be careful about using pain relievers every day, because over time this can make your child's headaches worse.
  • You can give your child water. Don't give your child drinks that contain caffeine. Fluids may help the headache go away faster.
  • Put a cold, moist cloth or cold pack on the painful area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the cold pack and your child's skin.
  • Heat can help relax your child's muscles. Try a warm bath or shower. Or use a warm, moist towel or heating pad set on low to relax tight muscles in your child's shoulders and neck.
  • Gently massage your child's neck and shoulders.
  • Do not ignore new symptoms that occur with a headache, such as a fever, weakness or numbness, vision changes, or confusion. These may be signs of a more serious problem.

How can you help prevent headaches?

To prevent migraines and tension headaches in your child, try these tips.

  • Keep a headache diary.

    This diary can help you find a link between your child's headaches and the things that trigger them. Help your child write down when each headache starts, how long it lasts, where it hurts, and what the pain is like. (Is it throbbing, aching, stabbing, or dull?)

  • Help your child avoid their headache triggers.

    Triggers are things that can cause your child to have headaches. Your child may be able to prevent headaches by avoiding the triggers.

  • Find healthy ways to help your child manage stress.

    Don't let your child's schedule get too busy or filled with stressful events.

  • Make sure that your child drinks plenty of fluids.

    Avoid drinks that have caffeine. Many popular soda drinks contain caffeine.

  • Make sure that your child gets plenty of sleep.

    Help your child keep a regular sleep schedule. Most children need to sleep 8 to 10 hours each night.

  • Encourage your child to get plenty of exercise.

    But your child should exercise without overdoing it.

  • Limit TV, video games, and computer time.
  • Make sure that your child doesn't skip meals.

    Provide regular, healthy meals.

  • Keep your child away from smoke.

    Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.

  • If your child is having problems with schoolwork, talk to your child's teachers.

    Make sure that the level and amount of schoolwork is appropriate for your child.

  • If your doctor has prescribed a medicine to prevent headaches, have your child take it as prescribed.

    Your child may need to take it even when they don't have a headache.

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your child has headaches after a recent fall or blow to the head.
  • Your child has a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your child has new nausea and vomiting, or you cannot keep down food or liquids.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child's headache lasts longer than 1 or 2 days.
  • Your child's headaches become more painful or frequent.
  • Your child frequently uses pain medicine to treat headaches.

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.