Acupuncture and tension headaches

What are tension headaches?

A tension headache is another term for the general headache which most of us experience from time to time. We may feel tightness or aching across the forehead, head or sides of the head, pain behind the eyes or muscle aches across the neck and shoulders. They usually last 30 minutes or more and then go on their own and don’t usually stop us doing our everyday activities. However sometimes they are frequent, last longer and can be quite debilitating. Tension headaches are classified as episodic or chronic depending on the number days they happen per month.

What are the causes of tension headaches?

Common causes for tension headaches include; stress, anxiety, dehydration, skipping meals, eye strain, poor posture, bright lights, noise and even some smells.

When should we seek medical advice?

It may be worth seeing your GP if you get headaches a few times a week or if they are severe.

You should seek immediate medical advice if your headache comes on suddenly, if it’s unusual for you, if you also experience nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, speech problems, feel confused or have nay facial or body weakness.

What can we do for tension headaches?

There is evidence that acupuncture an be helpful in the treatment. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE, CG150, 2012) state we can, ‘consider a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over 5–8 weeks for the prophylactic treatment of chronic tension‑type headache’.

Other management and treatments include, keeping a headache diary to monitor the duration, frequency and severity of headaches and responses from treatment, relaxation techniques, painkillers and addressing trigger factors e.g. seeing an optician, keeping hydrated, good posture, getting enough good quality sleep ‘sleep hygiene’ etc.

Resources & references


National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2012: Headaches in over 12’s: diagnosis and management