“Every time the kids start fighting, my shoulders tighten up, my neck hurts and I get a headache that can last for days,” Julie complained on her first visit. Julie had the classic signs of a tension headache. Tight shoulders and neck tension are common with tension headaches. But many people don’t know what caused their pain because, “tension” is such a large part of their life that they stop noticing the knots in their neck and back and just don’t pay attention to their posture. If you or someone you know suffers a lot of tension headaches, here is some information that may help to learn more about their causes and what you can do for yourself. (Hint: aspirin is not the answer).

The unfortunate people suffering frequent tension headaches only know to keep reaching for the aspirin or Tylenol or other pain medication, not realizing the bad long term effects of these drugs on their health. And not knowing that none of these drugs will correct the underlying condition causing their pain.

Symptoms of tension headaches

What we call tension headache can hurt a little, or a lot and can last from minutes to days. Tension headaches can run from your shoulders or neck up to the base of your head. They can also run from the base of your head to your forehead, and they can be over your temples.

Common causes of tension headaches

If you press around your shoulders, back of your neck, base of your head or over your temples and find a tight painful spot that makes your headache worse… What you are feeling is a muscle that is staying tight and that is contributing to your pain.

Muscles can stay tight for years as long as you have poor posture, stuck joints or muscle imbalances that have not been addressed by a combination of hands on care to move the stuck joints, special muscle therapy and stabilization exercises to improve your overall posture.

Stuck spinal joints in your neck or back, trigger points, chronic tension, and bad posture are just some of the contributing causes of tension headaches.

 Here are some self-help measures to get you through a tension headache:

  • Press around your head, neck and shoulders until you find the tight, painful spot in your muscle. Then hold firm pressure on the spot for 30 seconds to a minute. The pain should subside. Once you’ve cleared one spot, look for others and do the same for them.
  • To relax your neck muscles, lie down on your back with a towel rolled up into a tube/cylinder shape under your neck for about 15 minutes, or lie on your cervical pillow if you have one.
  • While lying down, do 10 slow controlled breaths. Breathe  in through your nose and out through your mouth. Count to 10 with each breath. Expand and widen your chest and lungs as you breathe in and push your stomach out. Then pull in your abdomen and belly button as you breathe out. This relaxes and helps balance your muscles while decreasing tightness in your upper back.


There are many ways to calm an occasional headache. But if your headaches keep coming back, then your body is trying to tell you that something is wrong. A headache every few days or even once a week is not healthy.

Taking over the counter medications or our self-help treatments should only be used for short-term care.

If you are suffering more than occasional tension headaches or if they are lasting a long time when you get them, get it checked out. Call us at 978-525-6155 for an appointment.

Neck Pain Treatments