Headache: Muscle Tension
What is a muscle tension headache?
A tension headache is a headache caused by tense muscles in the scalp or neck. Muscle tension headaches are a common kind of headache. These headaches give a feeling of tightness around the head. The neck muscles also become sore and tight. Tension headaches can be caused by staying in one position for a long time, such as reading, playing video games or using a computer. Many children get tension headaches as a reaction to stresses (such as pressure for better grades or family conflicts).
How long does it last?
Muscle tension headaches usually last from a few hours to a day and tend to return.
How can I take care of my child?
If your child has been checked by your healthcare provider and has muscle tension headaches, try the following to help ease the pain:
- When a headache occurs, your child should lie down and relax.
- Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as soon as the headache starts. The medicine is more effective if it is started early. A cold pack applied to the skin often helps.
- If something is bothering your child, help him talk about it and get it off his mind.
- Teach your child not to skip meals. Doing so can bring on headaches.
- Stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
- See that your child gets regular exercise, which can release natural painkillers (endorphins).
- To prevent tension headaches, teach your child to take breaks from activities that require sustained concentration. Encourage your child to do relaxation exercises during the breaks.
- Teach your child the importance of getting enough sleep.
- If overachievement causes headaches, help your child get out of the fast track.
When should I call my child's healthcare provider?
Call IMMEDIATELY if:
- The headache is severe AND constant.
- Your child has trouble seeing, thinking, talking, or walking.
- The neck is stiff.
- Your child is acting very sick.
Call during office hours if:
- Headaches are a recurrent problem for your child.
- You think blocked sinuses may be causing the headache.
- The headache has lasted more than 24 hours even though your child has taken pain medicines.
- You have other concerns or questions.
Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-16
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes
available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical
evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.