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Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

A tension headache is one of the most common types of headache, occurring in the head, scalp or neck due to muscle tension or tightness. They may be intermittent or chronic (two or more times per week for several months or longer) and are characterised by a dull, persistent sensation of tightness, pressure or stiffness that may spread to both temples and the entire head.

Causes / Risk factors / Triggers of Tension Headaches

  • Activities that cause head to remain in one position for prolonged periods without moving e.g. sitting at desk, driving long distances, typing or computer work, fine work with hands, using a microscope, sleeping in one position
  • Excessive alcohol or nicotine
  • Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
  • Jaw clenching or grinding / TMJ dysfunction
  • Parasites or pathogenic gut bacteria
  • Eye strain
  • Fatigue or overexertion
  • Neck injury or vertebral degeneration
  • Stress, anxiety or depression
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Food sensitivities
  • Hypoglycemia
  • impaired liver
  • Overuse of painkillers – may cause rebound headache

Signs and symptoms of Tension Headaches

  • Pain described as dull, pressure-like or a tight band (not throbbing)
  • Pain occurs all over head (not on one side)
  • Usually worse in scalp, temples or back of neck
  • May be associated with stiffness of neck and/or shoulder muscles

Differential diagnosis

  • Migraine
  • Sinus infection
  • Brain tumour or abscess
  • Eye lesions, iritis, glaucoma
  • Poisoning or drug overdose e.g. carbon monoxide, arsenic, lead, morphine, uremia, alcohol


This must be individualised as headaches have a number of causative factors

  • Identify and address underlying cause or triggers e.g. food allergies, parasites, gut pathogens, dehydration, nutritional deficiency, body mechanics, blood sugar imbalances etc.
  • Reduce pain and muscle tension
  • Reduce inflammatory response
  • Reduce stress and support nervous system


Diet plan guidelines for Tension Headaches

  • Identify / avoid any food allergens or triggers: wheat, dairy, soy, corn, chocolate, food additives (especially nitrates, MSG), excessive alcohol or caffeine
  • High histamine foods can be a factor (wine, cheese, tomatoes, chocolate)
  • Increase anti-inflammatory foods: oily fish, ginger, berries, turmeric
  • Increase magnesium-containing foods: green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds
  • Ensure healthy blood sugar balance: avoid missing meals; avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates; include complex carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats in each meal
  • Ensure adequate fluid intake

Supplements that support tension Headaches

  • Magnesium – to reduce muscle tension and support nervous system
    • Omega-3 EFAs –  to reduce inflammatory prostaglandins
    • B-complex – to support nervous system

Herbal Medicine treatment that supports tension Headaches

  • Antispasmodics – valerian, scullcap, passionflower, chamomile, black cohosh
  • Nervous system relaxants- passionflower, scullcap, zizyphus, oats, hops
  • Adaptogens – withania, rhodiola, ginseng
  • Circulatory stimulant – gingko
  • Pain reduction – Jamaica dogwood, willow bark, California poppy, wood betony, corydalis
  • Digestive support – peppermint, meadowsweet
  • Blood sugar support – gymnema, fringe tree

Lifestyle considerations to improve Tension Headaches

  • Regular exercise emphasising upper and lower back and abdominal areas to increase muscle tone
  • Yoga or regular stretching of neck
  • Deep breathing exercises to increase oxygen to head
  • Avoid prolonged sitting
  • Body work: chiropractic, osteopathic, physio, massage
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Avoid overuse of painkillers


Tension headaches can be caused by a variety of factors that are different for each individual.  Having massage, physio or chiropractic support as the first line of defense will often resolve the issue by relieving tight muscles that are causing the condition.

If this line of treatment does not resolve the issue fully or you continue to get recurring tension headaches it would be worth investigating further what other factors are causing the condition.

We commonly find food intolerances, especially to histamine containing foods is a big factor in tension headaches.  In addition, parasites and other gut pathogenic bacteria are regularly found in patients that present with regular headaches.

Underlying dysfunction in the way the body processes histamine, key nutrient imbalances such as with vitamin B6 (required for histamine processing) and genetic downregulation of certain pathways, often involving the MTHFR gene, are regularly at the root cause of long term headaches sufferers.

At our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine have experience assisting with a variety of headaches including chronic tension headaches.  Identifying the underlying cause is crucial to long term relief from headaches.

If you or a family member are suffering from chronic headaches we would love to hear from you.  What remedies have worked best for you?  Have you uncover why you are getting the headaches and resolved the issue?  Please leave a comment

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The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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