What causes tension headaches is not known, however the common assumption is that they are caused by muscle tension in the head and neck. Although muscle tension may be a related cause, there are many forms of tension headaches and recent thinking is that there is more than one cause for this type of headache.
One theory is a malfunctioning pain filter that is found in the brain stem may cause the pain. The thought is that the brain misinterprets information, from muscles, and interprets that signal as pain.
Serotonin is thought to be one of main molecules involved. This is evidenced by the fact that tension headaches can be successfully treated with some antidepressants. Teeth clenching is another theory as a cause for tension type headaches and migraine as it causes chronic contraction of the temporalis muscle.
Nonprescription painkillers such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen commonly relieve tension headaches. When severe muscle contraction occurs, stronger prescription drugs may be needed. However, there are side effects associated with these stronger drugs, namely drowsiness and slower reflexes. Therefore, most physicians will only recommend...