Tension Headaches: My Journey So Far

A few years ago I went away for the weekend. This wasn’t one of those weekends when you sit around all of the time, it was one where you get the delights of cooking for a load of people so that they can have a good time.

Jimmy and Granddad try to push a mouse aroundOn the Friday evening I started to feel a bit of a headache coming on, this wasn’t an unusual thing, what was unusual was that it didn’t go away. I took a few paracetamol as pain killers, but the pain carried on. It carried on all of the way through Saturday, but I wasn’t going to stop, I had things to do, meals to cook, menus to organise – and more painkillers.

I was reasonably late to bed Saturday night and then up early on Sunday to get breakfast ready. At this point I would have been quite happy with anyone who had offered to remove my head and replace it with something that actually fitted.

By Sunday mid-morning on Sunday I was worse than ever. My head felt like someone had put a vice on it and was squeezing it tighter and tighter. My eyes became blurry, and my nose started to run. Just before lunch I wave of nausea turned into vomiting. I took some more pain killers and took to my bed leaving everything in something of a muddle.

A few hours later and after chaos had ensued in the kitchen I awoke with a felling I can only describe as being punch drunk.

Being a rational and intelligent human being I went to see the doctor – except I didn’t. I figured that this was a one off, it was probably a virus or something. This wasn’t a fear-of-doctors thing, I just didn’t want to make a fuss.

A while later it happened again and this time I decided upon some self diagnosis. This must be a migraine I thought, so went to the chemist and bought some painkillers suitable for migraines. Migraines, after all, can’t be cured, so I just need to make sure I know where I can get some medication.

That’s it sort I thought, but if anything, the number of occurrences just increased. The medication would take away the symptoms, but I was never comfortable with the amount of times I would have to resort to them. I’d even get a bit neurotic about having something with me.

Eventually I did the rational thing – I went to see the doctor. Over two years later after the first big episode.

Dale Head ViewsAs with much self diagnosis I was wrong; these weren’t migraines at all. The characteristic of a migraine are very different to the symptoms I was experiencing. My problem, it turns out, were tension headaches, or tension-type headaches.

So what causes tension-type headaches – well it’s muscle tension tightening around the head. This tightening is precipitated by a number of things, all of which are part of my day-to-day existence: stress, poor posture, late nights, early mornings, lack of exercise, irregular eating.

The vice feeling I had been experiencing was exactly what was happening – the muscles in my head where emanating from my neck were putting head into a vice-like grip.

My problems, being muscular, meant that although the medication had been masking the symptoms, I was taking the wrong stuff and also there were things that could be done to prevent them from occurring. I needed to take medication that would alleviate this tension in the muscles not just reduce the pain.

It’s been a couple of months since I first went to see the doctor and since then I’ve been taking a muscle relaxant before going to bed. This has, in general, significantly improved the volume of severe headaches that I’ve been experiencing. I still get them occasionally and still have a bit of a way to go before I think I’m really there. This medication isn’t meant to be a long term answer and I need to do something about the precipitating factors too.

So why am I telling you this? Well, recently I’ve been in conversation with a number of people who are suffering similar things to me. I’m not trying to diagnose their situation because I’m not qualified, but I did want to share my experience.

3 thoughts on “Tension Headaches: My Journey So Far”

  1. Wow, I am one of those people! I have always had headaches since being a teenager but a few years ago they stepped up into something else, especially when I was at college. Paracetamol didn’t touch it, it lasted for 48 hours at a time and the only thing I could do was to retreat to bed for the duration – anything else made me want to rip my own head off and I could hardly see straight. Like you, I referred to them as migraines, although I didn’t think they had the same symptoms, to call them just ‘headaches’ seemed completely inadequate!

    For two years they came every few weeks but since we moved from college three years ago I have only had a handful. I think this for a few reasons: a) I am not on the computer all day now b) I have had two pregnancies since then and I sleep LOADS when I am pregnant! c) I don’t wait anymore, as soon as I feel a headache now I take an anti-inflammatory straight away.

    That may not be very useful to you as it would require a major life change for you not to use the computer every day, and as for getting pregnant…..

    But thanks for sharing 🙂


  2. Great post Graham – I too am a ‘regular’ sufferer of headaches, but I am unfortunately in the category of having classic migraine. Visual disturbance and all the rest followed by 2 days plus of the worst ‘hangover’ type feeling ever.

    My dealings with this is to become a regular swimmer to force a more correct posture and fitness as well as regular meal-times and hydration. Its not a cure but it is a help – for me anyways.


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