CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
The exact cause or causes of tension headache are unknown. Experts used to think that the pain of tension headache stemmed from muscle contraction in the face, neck and scalp, perhaps as a result of heightened emotions, tension or stress. But research suggests that there doesn't appear to be a significant increase in muscle tension in people diagnosed with tension headache.
The most common theories support interference or "mixed signals" involving nerve pathways to the brain, which is demonstrated by a heightened sensitivity to pain in people who have tension headaches. Increased muscle tenderness, a common symptom of tension headache, may be the result of overactive pain receptors.
It's likely other factors also contribute to the development of tension headaches. Potential triggers may include:
- Depression and anxiety
- Poor posture
- Working in awkward positions or holding one position for a long time
- Jaw clenching
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