Treating the pain of tension headache

Tension headache is a clinical diagnosis because brain scans and blood tests will be normal. These patients do not have ischaemia or contraction of their scalp muscles.

Patients tend to present when their headache is more intense than usual. Stresses such as exams or a lack of sleep may be the trigger.

Therapeutic Guidelines: Neurology says non-drug treatment can be helpful. Some patients may get relief from massage, postural correction and stretching. For more frequent headaches, cognitive behavioural therapy is as effective as drugs.

For short-lived episodes of tension headache, Therapeutic Guidelines: Neurology recommends paracetamol or ibuprofen for adults and children. Adults may use other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There is no evidence from clinical trials that one drug is better than another.

Although a sedating antihistamine may be prescribed to assist with sleep, there are no studies to support this approach to tension