Tension headache history and symptoms

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Sabeeh Islam, MBBS[2]


Tension-type headache pain is often described as a constant pressure, as if the head were being squeezed in a vise. The pain is frequently bilateral which means it is present on both sides of the head at once. Tension-type headache pain is typically mild to moderate, but may be severe. In contrast to migraine, the pain does not increase during exercise.

History and Symptoms

  • Tension headache is a featureless headache and typically presents as bilateral, mild to moderate intensity, nonthrobbing headache without any associated features such as nausea or vomiting.[1][2]
  • The headache pain may be described as:
    • Dull, pressure-like (not throbbing)
    • A tight band or vise on the head
    • All over the head
    • Worse in the scalp, temples, or back of the neck, and possibly in the shoulders
  • Increased pericranial muscle (head, neck or shoulders) and myofascial tissue tenderness
  • The pain may occur as an isolated event, constantly, or daily.
  • People with tension headaches tend to try to relieve pain by massaging their scalp, temples, or the bottom of the neck.


  1. Sandrini G, Antonaci F, Pucci E, Bono G, Nappi G (December 1994). "Comparative study with EMG, pressure algometry and manual palpation in tension-type headache and migraine". Cephalalgia. 14 (6): 451–7, discussion 394–5. doi:10.1046/j.1468-2982.1994.1406451.x. PMID 7697707.
  2. Jensen R, Fuglsang-Frederiksen A (June 1994). "Quantitative surface EMG of pericranial muscles. Relation to age and sex in a general population". Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 93 (3): 175–83. doi:10.1016/0168-5597(94)90038-8. PMID 7515793.

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