Tension Headache Prevention

When you get a tension headache, the only thing you care about is how to prevent another one. That’s no surprise.

And it’s no surprise that you get these headaches either. They’re the most common type of headache, and nearly 80% of people in the U.S. get them.

You know the tell-tale signs:

  • Dull, aching pain
  • Tightness or pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head
  • Tenderness of your scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles

If you get less than 15 per month, you have what doctors call episodic tension headaches. If you get more than 15 per month for three or more months, you have chronic tension headaches.

Unlike migraines, tension headaches aren’t caused by genes. The top cause: stress. Other things, like not getting enough rest, poor posture, or depression, can make them worse.

How Can I Prevent Them?

You might not be able to stop every single one. But there are lots of things you can do to get fewer of them. For starters, try some of these lifestyle changes:

Limit your stress. Try to plan ahead. Get, and stay, organized. Things that help you relax, like massage or meditation, can also help.

Exercise regularly. At least 30 minutes, 5 times a week, is ideal. It eases stress and keeps you fit. It also helps to stretch. Pay close attention to your jaw, neck, and shoulders. These are areas where we tend to hold a lot of tension.

Get enough sleep. When you’re well-rested, it’s much easier to deal with daily stress.

Improve your posture. A strong stance can help keep your muscles from tensing. When you stand, hold your shoulders back and your head level. Tighten your belly and buttocks. When you sit, make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor and your head and neck don’t slump forward.

Drink lots of water. If you’re dehydrated, you’re more likely to get a tension headache. Drink several glasses of fresh, filtered water each day, even if you’re not thirsty. It also helps to eat foods that are naturally rich in water, like most fruits and vegetables.


Eat regular, balanced meals. Skipping a meal can cause a throbbing headache. Try to eat at the same times every day. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet.

Limit caffeine and alcohol. There is caffeine in many over-the-counter headache medicines, but it can trigger headaches. Drink less coffee and tea, and fewer energy and soft drinks.

Keep a headache diary. Record the date, time, and what you were doing or had eaten when you get a headache. This will help you spot triggers. It’ll also help your doctor come up with a treatment plan.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on November 11, 2018



American Migraine Foundation: “Tension-type headache.”

Mayo Clinic: “Tension Headache.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Tension-type Headache.”

NHS Choices: “Tension-type headaches.”

Mount Sinai Hospital: “Headache Triggers and Tips.”

University of Michigan Health System: “Tension Headaches.”

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