Conservative Treatment Options for Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are extremely common, affecting more than 3 million people every year. Although the exact causes of tension headaches are unknown, theories include muscle contractions, stress, and increased pain sensitivity. Accordingly, most treatments try to counter these causes. Below are some ways that you can try and conservatively help treat these headaches all on your own!

  • Loosening your Suboccipitals
    • These muscles (pictured below) are commonly tight in people with tension headaches, and many patients demonstrate relief when having them worked on. To do this yourself, try using the phrase “mash and then stretch” on them:
      suboccipital muscles
      Suboccipital muscles
      • To “mash”: Take a peanut-shaped lacrosse ball and place it right underneath the base of your skull (see below). Retract your hand into it and hold for 5 seconds. Relax for 10 seconds and repeat.
      • To “stretch”: While lying face up and keeping the shoulders down and back, retract your chin and do a “neck sit-up” where you lift your head (see below). Hold this for 5 seconds. Relax for 10 seconds and repeat.
Peanut-lacrosse ball
Peanut-Lacrosse Ball
Peanut underneath skull
Peanut underneath skull
Neck Sit-Up
Neck Sit-Up






  • Stress management
    • Stress has always been a common theory for the main cause of these headaches. Emotions can manifest physically, and the end-result for some people with stress seems to be these headaches. Finding an outlet for this stress is very important when that link is apparent, and there are many options:
      • Exercise (weight-training, boxing, swimming, cycling, etc)
      • Yoga
      • Tai Chi
      • Meditation
      • Acupuncture
      • Taking up a hobby (reading, writing, knitting, etc)

If you suffer from tension headaches try these out and see if you notice any relief! If not, go see your local doc for further treatment options.




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Written by Dr. Brandon Buchla, DC, CSCS

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