Your skull feels as though it's being squeezed in a vice. Your
brains feel like they are boiling and about to burst out through
your ears any minute now. Your temples are throbbing, your
neck is a rigid column of pain and your shoulders feel so tight
they could almost be in a plaster cast.
You are suffering from a tension headache, and it's probably no
consolation to know that this is the most overwhelmingly common type
WHO GETS TENSION HEADACHES ?
Ninety per cent of us endure tension headaches at some point in
our lives, some almost continuously. They affect women two or three
times more often than men. They can strike at any age: a child studying
for exams is just as susceptible as a company director involved in a
corporate takeover, depending on lifestyle and personality.
What is the pain like ?
Sufferers often say they feel as though a heavy weight is bearing
down on top of the head, and complain of a dull, constant ache pressing
down and tightening around the skull. This can range from mild
discomfort to a pain so severe it drives victims to beat their heads with
When does it strike ?
These headaches often start in the middle of the day, afternoon or
evening. They can last for several hours, sometimes days, and usually
start at the back of the head or neck, moving forward to the eyes and
temples until the entire "hat band" of the crown is encompassed.
These headaches are also known as muscle contraction headaches,
because the immediate physical source of the problem is often tension in
the muscles of the shoulders, neck, jaw and head. However, the root
cause of tension headache is often (but not always) emotional. Before
you can react appropriately to your tension headaches, you need to work
out whether they are triggered by emotional stress or physical tension.
The physical triggers of tension headaches are pretty easy to detect
and are largely the result of lifestyle and environmental factors. Our
sedentary, but stressful, way of life is a prime culprit.
If you spend your working day hunched over a VDU in an air-conditioned office, fielding never-ending phone calls and forgetting to
take a lunch-break, you are two-thirds of the way towards arriving home
with a thumping headache. Poor posture is a major factor; working in the
same position for hours on end causes postural stress and physical
tension, whether you're sitting typing at a desk or bent over a drafting
board. Flickering fluorescent lights and the sounds, lights and fumes of
office equipment, like photocopiers and faxes, don't help either, but
many of us spend eight hours or more a day in such conditions.
Analgesics (painkillers) are the first line of defence for most
headache sufferers, usually over-the-counter preparations containing
aspirin or paracetamol.
* ASPIRIN reduces pain and fever
by interfering with the body's production of prostaglandins - chemicals
which cause inflammation and make the blood vessels contract. ( Brand names
: ASA, Aspro, Aspro Clear, Astrix 100, Bayer aspirin, Bex, Cardiprin, Cartia,
Disprin, Ecotrin, Solprin, Solvin, Spren, SRA, Vincent's Powders, Winsprin.
Aspiring with Codeine ( a
painkilling narcotic ) :
Codiphen, Codis, Codox, Codral, Codral Forte, Decrin, Orthoxicol, Perpain,
* PARACETAMOL relieves moderate
pain and reduces fever. It also inhibits the body's production of
prostaglandins; however, paracetamol does not reduce inflammation. ( Brand
names : Panadol, Panamax, Paralgin, Parmol, Tempra.
with Codeine : Codalgin,
Codral, Dymadon, Panadeine, Panadeine Forte ( prescription only ), Mersyndol,
Mersyndol Forte ( prescription only ), Panalgesic.
with Dextropropoxyphene ( another narcotic painkiller ) :
Digesic ( prescription only ), Paradex.
Such analgesics are usually effective, particularly if taken with the
time-honoured combination of a cup
of tea (or coffee) and a good lie
down. The rest gives you a chance to
relieve muscle tension, while the
caffeine in tea or coffee can help
contract dilated blood vessels (one
cause of headache pain). These
analgesics are reasonably safe, but
be warned: overindulgence,
particularly over a long period, may
cause health problems. Aspirin can
irritate the stomach and cause
bleeding from the gut. People with
peptic ulcers and bleeding disorders
shouldn't use it, nor should kids
under 12, nor teenagers with flu-like
symptoms. Paracetamol is "kinder to
the stomach" than aspirin; however,
it can cause tummy upsets and
shouldn't be taken without medical
consultation by people with peptic
ulcers. Both types of analgesic
should be taken with a full glass of
water or milk to protect the stomach.
If you consult your doctor about
your tension headaches, you may be prescribed a course of muscle relaxants or
tranquillisers to unlock tight muscles, or anti-depressants to combat the
stress contributing to headache pain. Such drugs are also beneficial, but
generally only in the short term. They all have side effects, and long-term
use can lead to other problems.
Accordingly, the doctor is likely to recommend that you learn relaxation
and stress management techniques.