A tension headache is the most commonly prevalent headache. It generally produces a diffuse, usually mild to moderate pain over the head. Many people liken the feeling to having a tight band around the head. A tension headache may also cause pain in the back of the neck at the base of the skull. Common symptoms include a headache; tenderness in the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles; insomnia; fatigue; irritability; loss of appetite; and difficulty in concentration. A tension headache is not usually associated with visual or other general disturbances and is not aggravated by activity. The exact cause of a tension headache is not known; previously it was considered to be related to muscular tension, and currently, it is believed to be related to changes in the brain neurotransmitters. A tension headache can be either episodic or chronic and is potentially triggered by stress, depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, skipped meals, certain medications and hormonal changes, especially in women.
The Ayurvedic treatment of a tension headache is aimed at controlling the symptoms, treating the cause, if known and preventing recurrence. Medicines like Triphala-Guggulu, Yograj-Guggulu, Kaishor-Guggulu, Trayodashang-Guggulu, Maha-Vat-Vidhwans-Ras, Vat-Gajankush-Ras, Dashmoolarishta, Vish-Tinduk-Vati, Nirgundi (Vitex negundo) and Sarpagandha (Rauwolfia serpentina) are used to control a headache. If a headache is usually associated with recurrent sneezing or chronic sinusitis, medicines like Tribhuvan-Kirti, Sitopaladi-Churna, Talisadi-Churna, and Yashtimadhuk (Glycerrhiza glabra) are used. If a headache is associated with symptoms of hyperacidity and peptic ulcer, medicines like Laghu-Sutshekhar, Sutshekhar-Ras, Praval-Bhasma, Shankh-Bhasma, Bhunimbadi-Qadha, and Preval-Panchamrut are used. An unpredictable type of a headache with irregular periodicity is believed to be due to ‘Vat’ and is treated using medicines like Maha-Vat-Vidhwans-Ras, Vat-Gajankush-Ras, Sameer-Pannag-Ras, and Bhruhat-Vat-Chintamani-Ras.
Godanti-Bhasma (Purified gypsum) and Sarpagandha form the mainstay of treatment for a tension headache. Pathyadi-Qadha is a herbal combination which is used on a long-term basis to control a tension headache and prevent recurrence. In order to treat stress-related factors, medicines like Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), Mandukparni (Centella asiatica), Shankhpushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) and Vacha (Acorus calamus) are used.
Local applications, usually on the forehead, are also used to treat tension headaches. For the ‘Vataj’ and ‘Kapha’ types of headaches, a paste of Sunthi (Zingiber Officinalis) is applied, while for the ‘Pitta’ type, a paste containing Chandan (Santalum album), Yashtimadhuk, Saraiva (Hemidesmus indices) and Usher (Vetiveria zizania dis) is used. For intractable headaches, application of leeches on the forehead brings about a dramatic relief from pain.
It is important to rule out serious causes of a headache before making the diagnosis of a tension headache. Adequate lifestyle modifications need to be made in order to avoid or minimize the known precipitating factors for this condition. Regular physical activity like aerobic exercises, yogic asanas and relaxation techniques like pranayama are very important in controlling and preventing tension headaches.