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Understanding the Key Differences Between Tension Headaches and Migraines

Updated: Apr 12

The pain of a tension headache is usually dull and happens on both sides of the head. You may feel tightness or pressure in your head. Migraines, on the other hand, occur on only one side or are worse on one side. They are characterized by a severe throbbing or pulsing pain. Just about any movement, activity, bright light, or loud noise seems to make it hurt more.

Tension headaches are commonly described as feeling like a tight band squeezing around your head, and they are pretty common. They can be triggered by stress, repetitive activities, and poor posture. The emergence of computers and cell phones has exacerbated this problem.

Tension headaches can be sporadic or chronic, significantly impacting your daily life.

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Forward head posture frequently leads to tension headaches

Here is a list of things that have helped me. This is NOT medical advice. Please consult your physician.

If you are in the throws of a TENSION headache you can try:

  • Ice pack on the back of your neck (heating pad works better for some people)

  • Peppermint and/or lavender oil on temples, behind ears, forehead and inner wrist

  • Eat something. Low blood sugar can trigger a headache. Incorporate fat, protein, and carbohydrates into this meal/snack. No naked carbs!

  • Go for a 10-15 minute walk. The fresh air and sunshine will help with anxiety.

  • Neck stretches – Gently guide your right ear toward your right shoulder, hold for a few breaths, then bring your chin to your chest. Hold again. Next, rotate your chin to your right arm pit. Release and stretch other side

  • Lie on your back with a rolled towel behind your neck, so that your head drops off the back of the towel.

  • Hot bath with epsom salts

  • Meditation for 5-10 minutes. Try a guided meditation. There are many on YouTube and are so relaxing.

  • Deep breathing: Sit quietly, focusing on deep breathing. Box breathing is just one technique proven to be relaxing as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat.

  • Over-the-counter ibuprofen usually helps my tension headaches. I also take daily magnesium. It’s a natural muscle relaxer!


Between these nasty “little” events is the time to think about how you can prevent the next one. Again, these are things that help me. They do not necessarily work for everyone and I encourage you to seek medical advice from professionals such as a functional medicine doctor, naturopathic physician, or chiropractor.

Personal tips and tricks between headaches

  • Daily magnesium. There are a few forms of magnesium that I use. Honestly, I kind of rotate through these as I think they are all important. 400 mg of magnesium glycinate has been recommended to me. It’s a natural muscle relaxer, helps with anxiety, and might make you poop. Bonus poop!

  • Eat every 4 hours. Letting your blood sugar get too low can trigger a headache

  • See a chiropractor that understands YOUR needs. I saw the same chiropractor for years. He did that SAME crack-crack every time I went in and I never got any better. I finally started seeing a new chiropractor who had new tricks up his sleeve and told me my headaches likely were coming from my jaw. No one had ever mentioned that to me before! That man never cracked my neck, but what he did do was massage my masseter muscle. Clench your teeth together and feel you jaw. Those bulging muslces on either side are your masseter muscles. These muscles tend to be a place we hold tension. If your clench your teeth while sleeping this muscle gets tired, pissed and so tender! Does a masseter massage feel good. Oh hell no! It’s weird (professional wears a glove and massages the muscles from both inside and out of the mouth.) If this muscle is already tender, this is not going to feel great at first. In time, it’s like magic though and provides sweet relief! Find yourself a provider that understands temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome

  • Focus on better posture to alleviate forward head posture.

  • Take screen breaks

  • Daily stretching. Your body craves movement. Gentle neck stretching and spinal twists are a great start. We do NOT need to beat our body into submission to feel good

  • Limit stress. Take note of what your stress triggers are. Go ahead, and make a list! Once you have this list you can work on what you’d like life to look like instead. Maybe you need more dinner dates with your spouse or girlfriends. Girlfriends really are the best stress relief in my opinion! Monthly massage or stretch sessions – yes please!! Your body is tell you something. Listen up beautiful. Treat your vessel well.

  • Daily deep breathing. Sit quietly for 5-10 minutes and just focus on your breath.

I hope one of my tricks will help you in the future! It’s hard to have a good day when we hurt.

Spokane Stretch is here for YOU! Come see me for a relaxing full-body stretch. Let me help you release all that tension.

Love ya all! Becky


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