Support for Head Tension by Goodhealth

Support for Head Tension

November 8, 2023

Head tension - nobody wants it; nearly everyone gets it! Not all head tension is the same, though, and recognising what type you have can be the difference between remedy and prolonged suffering. Read on for how to distinguish between the types and for tips to help you deal with them, naturally.


A type that can persist for several minutes to several hours each episode. They return regularly for weeks or months and affect around 1% of the population. They are six times more common in males than in females and usually occur in those who have a higher consumption of alcohol or who smoke. They usually come on rapidly, without warning, and peak within 2-15 minutes, with the discomfort felt around the eye or temple, and are always unilateral (affects only one side of the head). They usually last for thirty minutes to two hours (average 45 minutes) in about 75%. Cluster head tension is often described as feeling like a “hot poker” being driven through the eye.  Other symptoms that can occur are eye redness, tearing, and nasal drainage.  The discomfort usually begins in, around, or above the eye or the temple and occasionally the face, neck, or ear may be affected.


These usually occur because of strenuous exercise and involve severe discomfort around the back of the head. Exertional head tension affects 10% of people and are more common in men than women. The good news is they usually subside within a few minutes. They probably result from dehydration and an increase in blood pressure or circulation.


Severe head tension is characterized by recurrent throbbing that often starts with symptoms such as flickering bright lights, blurring of vision, or numbness.

“Classic” severity is different to “common” severity by an “aura” which signals the advent of the classic approximately 30 minutes prior to its full onset. This “aura” manifests as flashes of whirling lights and/or black spots or blind spots, which distort the normal visual field, and an attack can last from one to 72 hours long.

The common is characterized by a pulsating, severe pain, located on one side of the head, especially in the forehead or temple areas and is sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or noise.

These occur from constriction, which is then followed by dilation in the cerebral blood vessels and affect 10% of the population – 17% of women and 5% of men; with the most susceptible group being women aged 25 through to 44. There is also a strong genetic predisposition.


Rebound head tension commonly occurs because of the over-use of analgesics. Typical symptoms include return of the discomfort 3 – 4 hours after the effects of the medication has worn off; and occur daily (or almost daily) lasting from six hours to a full day, or every other day, even every third day. The best treatment for breaking the rebound cycle is to stop taking or reduce the dose of analgesics, obviously working with your doctor or pharmacist. This may intensify the discomfort at first but should lead to an improvement once the analgesics are stopped.


These begin as dull discomfort or a “squeezing” in the back of the head that spreads to the crown of the head and the forehead.  They are characterized by a feeling of pressure.  Tension discomfort accounts for 80% of all head tension.


Some occur because of an infection, overactive immune response, or seasonal ills and chills.

Causes Are Varied, but There Are Also Some Common Causes…

  • Obvious causes such as excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption – did you know people who consume more than 240mg of Caffeine have a 25% greater incidence of head tension than people who do not consume caffeine and they can experience it as a symptom of caffeine withdrawal as well. This usually occurs about 18 hours after the last intake of caffeine.
  • An excessive intake of some amino acids may also cause head tension, including Aspartic acid, Glutamic Acid, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Phenylalanine and Tyramine.
  • Candida overgrowth and intestinal hyperpermeability (especially if it happens after eating) may also be another cause, so looking after and repairing digestive health is important. Seek help from a naturopath.
  • Head tension may also occur from a reaction to gluten, particularly in those with celiac disease, because it can cause inflammation in the brain.
  • Arsenic, copper, lead, and mercury are heavy metals, and may be a cause, as a symptom of toxicity.
  • Excessive circulating serotonin may constrict the blood vessels.
  • Tobacco smoking can be a trigger, as well as red wine, especially for those with histamine intolerance due to the high histamine content of red wine.
  • Food additives – aspartame may cause head tension, primarily due to the methanol content of aspartame.
  • Excessive stress can also be common cause.
  • For women, head tension may also be a symptom of oestrogen dominance or occur prior to menstruation. 
  • Excessive dosages of certain vitamins can cause head tension including: – Choline (cluster types); Vitamin A; dosages over 100mg of Nicotinic Acid (a form of Vitamin B3) as well as excessive amounts of Vitamin D.
  • Deficiencies of certain vitamins, including Biotin, Vitamin B1 deficiency (supplementing Vitamin B1 1,000 – 4,000 mg per day may alleviate Head tension in up to 78% of patients), Vitamin B5, Vitamin D and Choline (cluster).
  • Iron deficiency may cause head tension, and this will ease once the iron deficiency has been treated.

Scientifically researched support for head tension:

Mild to Medium

  • Vitamin B3
  • 5-HTP.
  • Calcium and magnesium support cardiovascular musculature.
  • The herb, Feverfew.
  • Fish Oils (approximately 4,500 mg per day containing 800 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA).
  • Peppermint Oil applied topically to the forehead and temples.
  • Levagen®+, a more absorbable form of palmitoylethanolamide (PEA)


Vitamins in General

  • Vitamin B2 up to 400mg per day
  • Vitamin B3 (500 – 1,000 mg).
  • Vitamin B6 deficiency and Vitamin B12.
  • Vitamin E for menstrual head tension.

 Foods, Herbs, and lifestyle factors in General

  • Feverfew 50 – 80 mg per day.
  • Ginger.
  • Ginkgo Biloba.
  • Other modalities that can help include acupuncture, exercise, light therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation.


  • Elevated cortisol levels due to stress have been implicated because they often occur during or after periods of stress.
  • Helicobacter Pylori.
  • Excess copper or sodium.
  • Food allergies.
  • Coffee, alcohol, cocoa (chocolate), refined sugar, highly processed cheese and other dairy products (or any dairy for those with insensitivities), as well as food additives such as Aspartame, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Sodium Nitrite and Sucralose.

A great way to determine which type you’re suffering from is to keep a diary of what you’re eating, when you’re exercising and your daily environment, noting down any associations with frequency.  After diarising this information for a month or so, you can look back at what is regularly occurring on the days you are suffering from head tension.