| Tue, Dec 22, 2015 @ 09:00 AM

Ouch! My Head Feels Like it’s in a Vice Grip

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

headacheIf you’ve ever had a headache that could be described as a squeezing sensation, it may have been a tension-type headache.

Tension headaches, also called muscle strain or muscle contraction headaches, are the most common type of headache.1 The pain associated with a tension headache is usually mild to moderate and is often felt on both sides of the head. People with this type of headache may experience some sensitivity to light, but they don’t usually have nausea, vomiting or visual disturbances such as pre-headache auras that migraine headaches sometimes produce.

The exact cause of tension headaches is unknown. However, it’s thought the primary triggers are stressful events or emotional tension. Stress and tension can cause muscle strain in the neck, face, scalp or jaw. Stress and muscle strain can also lead to secondary conditions that trigger tension headaches. These other conditions may include:

  • Too little sleep or sleep apnea
  • Missing meals
  • Jaw clenching
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Degenerative arthritis of the neck
  • Poor posture, such as extending your head forward while working at a computer

Prevention and Treatment

One of the best ways to treat a tension headache is to prevent it from happening. To do this, you’ll need to treat the primary or secondary condition or disease that is causing the headache, such as:

  • Get proper sleep by maintaining a sleep schedule. If you think you could have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about scheduling a sleep study.
  • Eat nutrient-rich meals at regular intervals or whatever schedule may work best for you.
  • Talk to your health care provider about using a corrective device to help with proper jaw alignment to help with TMJ.
  • Speak to a mental health provider about ways to help reduce depression, anxiety or stress.
  • Talk to your doctor about the different treatment options for degenerative arthritis to help relieve pain and muscle tension.
  • Be aware of poor posture and sit up straight. This may help relieve pressure on muscles.


Tension headaches are common. However, you should talk to your doctor if headaches disrupt your life or you take medication for your headaches more than twice a week. If you have a history of headaches and the pattern of your headaches changes or you suddenly feel different, see your doctor right away. It could indicate a serious medical condition.

If you experience any of the following conditions, it could mean a medical emergency. Call 911 or seek emergency medical attention at the nearest hospital emergency room.

  • Abrupt, severe headache2
  • Headache with a fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or speaking difficulties2
  • Headache after a head injury, especially if the headache gets worse2

If you have questions regarding headaches or any other medical concern, talk to your doctor at your next annual Wellness visit. If you have a medical concern that you think cannot wait until your next Wellness visit, see your doctor right away. 

Related Content

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3 Surprising Facts About Arthritis

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The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


1 Headache: Hope Through Research: NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, September 23, 2015

2 Tension Headache, Mayo Clinic Staff, July 16, 2013


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