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Headache, Muscle Tension: Teen Version

What is a muscle tension headache?

A tension headache is a headache caused by tense muscles in the scalp or neck. These headaches give a feeling of tightness all 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 people get tension headaches as a reaction to stress (such as pressure for better grades or family conflicts). If you get a lot of headaches, see your healthcare provider. They may be caused by something besides tension.

How long does it last?

Tension headaches usually last from a few hours to a day and you may have them often.

How can I take care of myself?

If you have been checked by your healthcare provider and still have tension headaches, try the following to help ease the pain:

  • When you get a headache, lie down and relax.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen as soon as the headache starts. (Avoid aspirin if you have a fever.) The medicine is more effective if it is started early.
  • A cold pack applied to the painful area often helps.
  • Stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
  • If something is bothering you, talk about it and get it off your mind.

How can I prevent muscle tension headaches?

  • Don't skip meals if doing so brings on headaches.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Cut back on excessive caffeine in your diet.
  • Get regular exercise, which releases natural painkillers (endorphins).
  • Take breaks from activities that require sustained concentration. Do relaxation exercises during the breaks.
  • Make sure you get enough sleep.
  • If overachievement causes headaches, get out of the fast track.

When should I call my healthcare provider?


  • The pain is severe and persists more than 2 hours after you take pain medication.
  • You have trouble seeing, thinking, talking, or walking.
  • Your neck is stiff.
  • You are feeling very sick.

Call during office hours if:

  • Headaches are a recurrent problem for you.
  • The headache has lasted more than 24 hours even though you have taken pain medicines.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2018.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2017-06-05
Last reviewed: 2017-06-05
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 healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2018 Barton D. Schmitt, MD FAAP. All rights reserved.
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