Treating Tension Headaches

Many patients with tension headaches do not seek medical attention or advice, instead choosing to treat themselves with nonprescription analgesics and over-the-counter pain medications.

While this works for some people, others, whose tension headaches are severe enough or sufficiently frequent to compel them to seek professional treatment, obtain relief through a course of doctor-prescribed antidepressant or anxiety-reducing medications, such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline or desipramine.

When headaches are severe, symptomatic treatment with aspirin, acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be helpful. In such cases, care must be taken to avoid medication overuse, as this can lead to "rebound headaches." Due to potentially severe gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects, NSAIDs should only be used as instructed.

Some patients report beneficial results from secondary treatments that help reduce the effects of stress and tension on the body, such as massage, meditation and the use of biofeedback techniques. In some cases, patients also may benefit from the effects of psychotherapy as a means of learning how to cope with stress and tension.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2002

Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015