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Preventive Maintenance: Headaches: What are the causes?

It's happening again. Just when you're heading out, your head starts to ache. Or perhaps your scalp or neck begins to throb. It could be a tension headache. They're caused by muscle contractions in yo...




It’s happening again. Just when you’re heading out, your head starts to ache. Or perhaps your scalp or neck begins to throb. It could be a tension headache. They’re caused by muscle contractions in your scalp or neck area.

What causes your aching head? It could be stress, depression or anxiety. Sleeping in a cold or drafty room or sleeping with your neck in an unusual position can also trigger tension headaches.

Eye strain, fatigue, too much alcohol, excessive smoking, over-exertion, too much caffeine, sinus infection, nasal congestion, colds, and flu can also be contributing factors. Reasonable exercise can keep a headache at bay.

Poor posture can cause headaches, so sit up straight. Arthritis is another cause, as well as abnormal bones, discs or muscles in your neck.

Staying still too long can also give you a headache. So when you’re driving and staring straight ahead without shifting your shoulders and moving your head, you are setting yourself up for a tension headache.

If you get this type of headache, join the crowd. Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches. Fortunately, tension headaches are not usually serious and do not suggest you have a brain tumour.

What do tension headaches feel like? People with tension headaches describe the pain as being a dull pressure that covers a large area of the head, with worse pain in the scalp, temples or the back of the neck. You don’t feel tension headaches on just one side of your head. Instead, they feel like a tight band is squeezing your skull.

Although tension headaches are just uncomfortable, other types of headaches may be warning you that something serious is happening inside your head. Your condition may be more severe, and you should see a doctor, if you notice any of the following symptoms. If your headache:

* Gets worse and worse

* Is not a usual occurrence for you

* Occurs when you already have heart disease, kidney problems or high blood pressure

* Occurs after you’ve hit your head, especially if you also feel sick, dizzy, or weak. Or, if your vision becomes blurry, or you start acting differently.

* Brings on a seizure.

* Is accompanied by a fever (unless the reason is obvious, such as having the flu)

* Is accompanied by localized pain in other parts of your body

* Becomes worse if you cough, sneeze or bend over

* Just won’t go away.

If none of the previous symptoms apply to your situation, you’ve likely got a tension headache.

What can you do about your headache right now? Apply a hot pack or ice pack on your neck or head. Take a hot shower to loosen up your muscles. Get enough rest. Take a break to get away from stress. Exercise. Work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, four to six times a week.

How can you avoid getting another tension headache in the future? First of all, watch your environment. Make sure you have enough light to avoid eyestrain, keep shifting your body position to keep your muscles loose and try to stay out of stressful situations.

But let’s face it, stress is just another occupational hazard for a truck driver. Since you can’t avoid the stress, learn to loosen up through it. Stuck in a traffic jam? Start rolling your shoulders, and stretching your neck and back. Stay loose, but don’t slump over the steering wheel.

Watch cold drafts on your neck. Be aware of the wind blowing in through the window, and watch the flow of cold air from the A/C. Cold drafts will tighten your neck muscles.

Even though it may be uncomfortable, as you see, your tension headache isn’t likely serious. It’s just a pain in the neck.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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