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Woman experiencing a headache

Tension Headaches – Diagnosis and Treatment

There are many causes of headaches. They can be a stand-alone problem or a symptom of a disease or condition. Headaches can cause aching and pain in various areas of the head or behind the eyes. Sometimes the pain may be on one side of the head, or both sides and can be associated with jaw or neck issues.

Tension headaches are one of the most common forms of headaches affecting up to 80% of people at some point in their lives. Tension headaches may not cause significant problems unless they become regular and recurring.

A tension headache causes tightness or pressure that is often described as a band around the head. Occasionally this can spread to the neck. Tension headaches usually begin during the teenage years and affects women more than men. Tension headaches are thought to be stress related and possibly associated with musculoskeletal problems in the neck.

Tension headaches may last for a few hours or several days, and if it becomes chronic, a tension headache can become quite problematic. While there are various degrees of severity, tension headaches which occur regularly for more than three months are considered chronic. A tension headache can also be associated with other symptoms similar to a migraine, such as photophobia (light sensitivity) and nausea.

Diagnosing a Tension Headache

Your physiotherapist can identify the muscles associated with your tension headache with clinical testing. Diagnosis is also based on your symptoms and how you respond to treatment.


Physio for headaches can be an effective form of treatment for tension headaches. Immediate relief can often result from headache physio, dry needling or massage. This is achieved by relaxing tense muscles. There are many effective forms of treatments that your physio may include, such as:

  • Joint mobilisation to help loosen stiff neck joints.
  • Muscle strengthening exercises to help specific neck muscles and other surrounding muscles.
  • Massage, acupuncture, dry needling and stretching to help loosen and relax tight or overactive muscles.
  • Posture correction to improve biomechanics and reduce pressure on muscles and joints.

Physio for headaches may not be the first form of treatment people consider, however, tension headaches often respond well to physiotherapy and people are often surprised how effective it can be. 

Long lasting results can be achieved by working with a physiotherapist while also making some lifestyle adjustments. Often by treating muscle imbalances and making lifestyle changes such as taking regular breaks from sitting at a desk, or improving posture and muscle strength can provide positive results.

Many people will suffer from tension headaches at some point in their life. Headaches can be very disruptive to daily life depending on how severe they are. When headaches become chronic, they can affect many areas of your life. Tension headaches are often a result of stress, muscle imbalance or poor posture, and can be effectively treated using Perth physiotherapy treatments such as massage, muscle strengthening, dry needling/acupuncture, posture correction and joint mobilisation. Tension headache sufferers can achieve relief by making some lifestyle changes and working with a physio near you.

Director & Senior Physiotherapist at Integrity Physiotherapy, Leslie Trigg, has over 13 years of experience in clinical practice. He has graduated with a degree in Human Biology (Anatomy and Physiology) from Curtin University in 2001 and later completed a Masters of Physiotherapy in 2007. He has tremendous experience in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, neurosurgical and sports physiotherapy. In his spare time, he enjoys swimming, listening to music and spending time with his family.