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 skin 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.
  • 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.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-07
Last reviewed: 2011-06-06
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.
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