Home>>Family Medicine>>Kids Health: Headaches

Muscle Tension Headache

What is a muscle tension headache?

A tension headache is a headache caused by tense muscles in the face, neck, or scalp. Muscle tension headaches are a common kind of headache. These headaches give a feeling of tightness 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 children get tension headaches as a reaction to stresses (such as pressure for better grades or family conflicts).

How long does it last?
Muscle tension headaches usually last from a few hours to a day and tend to return.

How can I take care of my child?
If your child has been checked by your healthcare provider and has muscle tension headaches, try the following to help ease the pain:

  • When a headache occurs, your child should lie down and relax. Teach your child the importance of getting enough sleep.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen as soon as the headache starts. The medicine is more effective if it is started early. Cold packs on the painful area sometimes help.
  • If something is bothering your child, help him talk about it and get it off his mind.
  • Teach your child not to skip meals if doing so brings on headaches.
  • Stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
  • See that your child gets regular exercise, which can release natural painkillers (endorphins).
  • Cut back on the amount of caffeine in your child's diet.
  • To prevent tension headaches, teach your child to take breaks from activities that require sustained concentration. Encourage your child to do relaxation exercises during the breaks.
  • If overachievement causes headaches, help your child get out of the fast track.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?
Call IMMEDIATELY if:

  • The headache is severe AND constant.
  • Your child has trouble seeing, thinking, talking, or walking.
  • The neck is stiff.
  • Your child is acting very sick.