Symptoms and Signs of Tension Headache

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Tension Headache

Tension headache is the most common type of headache. A majority of people will develop a tension headache sometime during their lives. Tension headache can occur at any age but most commonly begins during adolescence or young adulthood, with the highest frequency among those aged 20-50 years. Tension headaches are different from migraine or cluster headaches.

Symptoms of tension headache include diffuse pressure or tightness and sometimes, tenderness of the muscles surrounding the head. The pain may be on both sides of the head, or it may cause an aching or squeezing sensation located in the forehead, temples, or back of the head that radiates to the neck and shoulders. Pain is usually moderate, not severely disabling, and not associated with the typical symptoms of migraine, such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to sound or light. The onset of pain is usually gradual and not associated with a period in which a person can feel a headache coming on. The onset of a tension-type headache often occurs in periods during or after stress and usually toward the latter part of the day.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.