Tension Headache Stretches

Discover effective Tension Headache Stretches for relief with our guide, designed for healthcare professionals to aid patients. Read now!

By Nate Lacson on Apr 08, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches, the most prevalent headache among adults and adolescents, manifest as a dull, aching head pain. They often create a sensation of tightness or pressure across the forehead or on the sides and back of the head, akin to a tight band being stretched around it. This discomfort is frequently accompanied by muscle tension, particularly in the scalp, neck, and shoulders, leading to tender or tight muscles. Unlike migraines, which are often accompanied by additional migraine symptoms like visual disturbances or nausea, tension headaches typically do not involve these other sensory disturbances.

The precise cause of tension headaches remains elusive, but they are widely attributed to muscle contractions in the head and neck regions. These contractions can be a reaction to various factors, including stress, depression, head injury, or anxiety, and result in the tight muscles associated with this headache type. In some individuals, tension headaches can become chronic, significantly impacting their daily lives. They can vary in frequency and intensity but are often linked to changes in stress levels or physical postures.

Gaining an understanding of tension headaches is essential for effective management and treatment. Recognizing the symptoms and potential triggers allows individuals to take proactive steps toward reducing their frequency and severity. For health professionals, offering comprehensive care to patients involves treating tension headaches and educating them about muscle tension's role in these headaches and strategies for prevention and relief, including physical therapy techniques and lifestyle adjustments.

Printable Tension Headache Stretches

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Causes of tension headaches

Tension headaches arise from various factors contributing to muscle tension and stress in the body. Understanding these causes is crucial for healthcare professionals and patients to develop effective prevention and treatment strategies.

  • Stress: One of the most common triggers for tension headaches is stress. Emotional and mental stress can lead to muscle tension, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and scalp, causing or exacerbating headache symptoms. Stress-related tension headaches often occur during or after periods of high stress and may be mitigated by stress management techniques.
  • Poor posture: Poor posture, especially when sitting or standing for extended periods, can strain the neck and shoulders, leading to tight muscles and triggering tension headaches, sometimes causing pain in the left arm or left shoulder. Adjustments to workstation ergonomics and regular posture checks can help alleviate this strain.
  • Eye strain: Prolonged periods of screen time without breaks can contribute to tension headaches, and in some cases, symptoms can extend to referred pain in the left arm due to muscle tension. Regular breaks using the 20-20-20 rule (every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds) can help reduce eye strain and the risk of headaches.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration can lead to tension headaches by causing the body to experience stress and muscle tightness. Maintaining adequate hydration throughout the day is a simple yet effective way to prevent dehydration-related tension headaches.
  • Sleep disturbances: Research suggests insufficient or poor-quality sleep can significantly increase muscle tension and trigger headaches. Establishing a regular sleep schedule and creating a conducive sleep environment can improve sleep quality and reduce headache frequency.
  • Caffeine and alcohol consumption: Excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol can lead to dehydration and subsequent tension headaches. Moderating intake of these substances can help minimize their impact on headache occurrence.

By identifying and addressing these common causes, individuals can take proactive steps to prevent tension headaches or reduce their severity. Lifestyle adjustments and appropriate medical advice form the cornerstone of effective headache management.

How are tension headaches treated?

Treating tension headaches often involves a combination of lifestyle adjustments, physical therapies, and, in some cases, medication. Here are several effective strategies to manage and alleviate tension headaches.


Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen can be effective for immediate relief. However, it's essential to use these medications sparingly to avoid overuse headaches, a condition where frequent use of headache medications leads to chronic headaches.

Stress management techniques

Since stress is a primary trigger for tension headaches, employing stress management techniques can be highly beneficial. Practices such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and regular physical activity can reduce stress levels and decrease the frequency and severity of headaches.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy can address the muscular issues that contribute to tension headaches. A physical therapist may recommend exercises to strengthen the muscles around the neck and improve posture, reducing the likelihood of headaches caused by muscle tension and poor posture.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy can help relax tight neck, shoulders, and scalp muscles, relieving tension headaches. Regular massage sessions can also improve circulation and reduce stress, preventing headaches.


Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine technique involving the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body, is effective in treating tension headaches. It may help by promoting relaxation and pain relief.

Stretching exercises

Incorporating specific stretches into your daily routine can alleviate muscle tension around the neck, shoulders, and head. Stretches that focus on these areas can prevent the onset of headaches or reduce their intensity when they occur. These help with neck pain as well.

By combining these treatment methods, individuals suffering from tension headaches can find relief and potentially reduce the frequency of their headaches. It's always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment regimen, especially if headaches are severe or persistent.

What are Tension Headache Stretches?

Tension headache stretches are exercises designed to relieve the muscle tension that often leads to headaches. These stretches primarily target the neck, shoulders, and upper back muscles, where tightness can significantly contribute to headache pain. By regularly performing these stretches, individuals can reduce muscle stiffness, improve flexibility, and decrease the frequency and severity of tension headaches.

Neck flexion stretch

This stretch aims to relieve tension in the back of the neck. Gently lower your chin to your chest, holding the position to feel a stretch in the back of your neck. This movement helps elongate the neck muscles that often tighten during stress or prolonged sitting.

Lateral neck stretch

To target the sides of your neck, gently tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear closer to your shoulder until a comfortable stretch is felt on the opposite side. This stretch addresses the lateral neck muscles, alleviating the strain contributing to tension headaches.

Shoulder rolls

Performing slow, deliberate shoulder rolls, both forward and backward, helps loosen the left shoulder, right shoulder, and upper back muscles. This simple exercise can significantly reduce the buildup of tension around the neck and shoulder area.

Neck extension stretch

Tilting your head back to look up at the ceiling stretches the front of your neck, counteracting the forward neck posture that often develops from long hours spent at a desk or computer.

Shoulder blade squeeze

Bringing your shoulder blades together as if trying to hold a pencil between them strengthens the muscles between the shoulder blades and opens up the chest. This exercise helps correct poor posture, a common cause of tension headaches.

Incorporating these stretches into your daily routine can offer a simple and effective way to manage tension headaches. They are designed to be easy to perform, requiring no special equipment, and can be done anywhere, making them an accessible solution for headache relief.

Tension Headache Stretches example (sample)

Carepatron has developed a sample Tension Headache Stretches template as a practical example for health professionals. This sample illustrates how the stretches can effectively communicate and be prescribed to patients experiencing tension headaches. It provides a comprehensive guide on executing each stretch to alleviate symptoms associated with tension headaches.

Download this free Tension Headache Stretches handout example here

Tension Headache Stretches example (sample)

Why use Carepatron as your physical therapy software?

Choosing Carepatron as your physical therapy practice management software streamlines your processes and enhances patient care through its comprehensive features:

  • Centralized client management: Carepatron provides efficient access to all necessary patient information and electronic health records, improving the quality of care.
  • Advanced scheduling capabilities: Offers direct client booking, automated reminders, and personal calendar synchronization for optimized appointment management.
  • Simplified billing and payments: Integrated with Stripe for secure processing, it supports auto-generated billing documents and direct payment links for easy transactions.
  • Integrated telehealth services: With Zoom and Google Meet compatibility, it facilitates remote therapy sessions, expanding your service reach.
  • Customizable documentation: Allows personalized therapy plans, compliance documentation, and other templates, such as the Headache Location Chart and the Headache Physical Exam.
  • Online patient portal access: Enables patients to actively engage in their therapy process by booking appointments, viewing their therapy progress, and managing payments online.

Carepatron's user-friendly platform is specifically designed to address the unique needs of physical therapy practices, offering a seamless integration of administrative tasks, patient care, and billing processes.

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Can you stretch out a tension headache?
Can you stretch out a tension headache?

Commonly asked questions

Can you stretch out a tension headache?

Yes, gentle stretching exercises targeting the neck, shoulders, and upper back can help relieve the muscle tension causing a headache.

How do you get rid of a tension headache ASAP?

Applying heat or cold to the neck and shoulders, performing tension-relieving stretches, and ensuring proper hydration can quickly relieve tension headaches.

What pressure points get rid of tension headaches?

Applying gentle pressure to the base of the skull, the bridge of the nose, or the temples can help relieve tension headaches.

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