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Trigger Point Therapy - Treating Tension Headaches

Posted by Judith Winer on

Tension Type Headaches (TTH) are by far the most common type of chronic headache.

People who experience migraines typically also have tension headaches in between their migraines. These are known as transformed headaches.

Symptoms of TTH

Tension headaches usually affect both sides of the head and last from thirty minutes to several days or more. They often have a characteristic tight-band or vice like pain with a ‘dull steady aching’ quality.

Symptoms can vary in intensity from mild to moderate to severe they may also affect sleep. They are not accompanied by the additional symptoms that traditionally distinguish migraine headaches such as light sensitivity (photophobia), flashes and patterns in the eyes (visual scotoma) and warning signs (prodromal).

It is estimated that tension headaches affect about 1.4 billion people (20.8% of the population) and are more common in women than men (23% to 18% respectively).


Trigger Point Therapy - Treating Headaches 


TTH and trigger points

Muscular problems and tension are commonly associated with TTH, and trigger points within muscles may either be causative or may perpetuate TTH.

The most commonly affected muscles are trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, temporalis, masseter and occipitofrontalis. There is also a strong association with postural issues such as the upper crossed pattern.

Peripheral and Central Sensitization

The pain processing part of the central nervous system is almost certainly involved in TTH as it shows up abnormal in scans. Trigger points often add to the misery of headaches because they are associated with peripheral and central sensitization.

Long-term inputs from trigger points may lead to a vicious cycle that converts periodic headaches into chronic tension headaches. In such cases even if the original initiating factor is eliminated, the trigger point-central sensitization cycle can perpetuate or even worsen.

TTH's are often aggravated by stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, noise, and glare, but they can also be associated with neck arthritis or a neck disc problem.

Acute or Chronic

TTH headaches can be episodic or chronic. Episodic tension-type headaches are defined as tension-type headaches occurring fewer than 15 days a month, whereas chronic tension headaches occur 15 days or more a month for at least 6 months. Headaches can last from minutes to days, months or even years, though a typical tension headache lasts 4–6 hours.

TTH fact file

1. The most prevalent form of benign primary headache with a reported prevalence varying from 65-90%, depending on the classifcation, description, and severity of headache features.

2. The psychosocial impacts of TTH include disruptions of daily activities, quality of life & work and are accompanied by considerable costs.

3. The International Headache Society (IHS) characterizes TTH as bilateral headaches of mild-to-moderate intensity that experienced with an aching, tightening, or pressing quality of pain.

4. TTH Headaches may last from 30 minutes to 7 days, are not accompanied by nausea or vomiting, and may have light sensitivity (photophobia) or sound sensitivity (phonophobia) but not both.

5. Headache frequency is classified as ‘episodic’ (<15 headaches per month) or ‘chronic’ (>15 per month).


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This trigger point therapy blog is intended to be used for information purposes only and is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or to substitute for a medical diagnosis and/or treatment rendered or prescribed by a physician or competent healthcare professional. This information is designed as educational material, but should not be taken as a recommendation for treatment of any particular person or patient. Always consult your physician if you think you need treatment or if you feel unwell. 









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