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There are many causes of headaches. If persistent they need checking out.  However if safe to proceed then there are also many self care options.

What is this toolkit?

The College of Medicine Self Care Toolkit is a resource for anyone to use.

We aim to provide you with reliable information for your self care that has been independently and expertly assessed. Mainly we choose options that have the evidence, and provide links so you can see that evidence for yourself. We also mention some of the most plausible and widely-used self care options around the world, where these are likely to be safe and so worth a try.

Find out more about how this resource was put together in the About Us link above.

You can choose your self care treatment options from the list below.

How do you use this?
For each treatment options you will see a row with a choice of three symbols at the top. This is what they mean.

Good evidence suggests this is well worth trying.
Some research suggests that this is worth trying.
A little research suggests this might be worth trying.
Not much research or uncertain results - however safe enough and might still be worth a try.
Costs will be from nothing to £15 per month. This category also includes options that might be available on the NHS even though getting them privately may be expensive.
Costs could be up to £50 one off or per month although may be less.
Expect to pay more than £50 per month.
No safety concerns.
Caution if you have certain health problems.


What to watch out for


This site gives you information NOT medical advice. You should consult your medical practitioner if you have any unexplained symptoms of illness or concerns about treatment. Do not stop a prescribed conventional treatment without consulting a doctor. Tell all the practitioners you’re working with, conventional or complementary, about any medicines, remedies, herbs or supplements you are taking or considering using.



What do we mean by headaches?

Most people get headaches from time to time. In the UK, tension-type headaches affect around 65% of men and over 80% of women. Up to 1 in 20 adults has a headache every day or nearly every day. Although common and treatable, tension-type headaches can be debilitating and may cause concern. The good news is that the vast majority of headaches require no expensive tests or specialists, and may be managed with appropriate changes in lifestyle, some simple self care techniques, and sometimes the proper use of simple over-the-counter medicines, available from pharmacies.

Different types of headache

  • Tension-type headache is the most common kind. About half of adults have occasional achy tension-type headache – less than one a month, usually lasting only a few hours. They make both sides of the head hurt and sometimes the neck too. A tension-type headache can last from half an hour to a week. They are twice as common in women as in men.
  • Medication-overuse headache happens when people take large amounts of painkillers over long periods of time. Up to 2% of people get this type of headache, but women are five times more likely to get it. If used too frequently, painkillers lose their effectiveness and can even cause more headaches.
  • A chronic headache is a headache that lasts for 15 or more days a month. They can be tension-type headaches, medication-overuse headaches or migraines.
  • Migraines are common too but they are not due to muscle tension. Often throbbing and one-sided, they can cause sickness or vomiting and visual disturbance (such as flashing lights, stars, patchy loss of sight, blurring and zig-zags). Migraines are three times more common in women than in men. And women who get migraines get them more often than men do. (If you get migraines, see our MIGRAINE section).
  • Cluster headaches are much less common. They take the form of a severe, one-sided headache.

Note: The information in this leaflet is for people who get tension-type headaches.

What causes tension headache?

Tension-type headaches are not always due to muscle tension. But feeling stressed or anxious will tend to tighten the muscles of the head and neck. The head can weigh 10 pounds (4.5 kg) or more, so the neck muscles have to work hard to support and balance it and control its movements. Trigger points (sometimes wrongly called ‘muscle knots’) can form in tense, overworked muscles, and these are a common cause of aches and pains.

If you have a lot of tension-type headaches, keeping a headache diary may help you spot things that trigger them, such as stress or poor posture. Every day, note down when you get a headache, how bad it is and how long it lasts. Also, make a note of your mood and anything that causes you mental or physical strain, such as an argument or working at your computer for a long time without a break. Tense posture will soon stiffen neck and shoulder muscles.

What other information might be helpful

  • if you often get aches and pains in several parts of your body, you might find our section on MUSCLE ACHE helpful
  •  if you are feeling generally run-down and tired, you might find our section on TIREDNESS AND FATIGUE helpful
  •  if you think your headaches might be caused by lack of sleep, you might find our section on SLEEP PROBLEMS helpful
  •  if you think that you might be suffering from stress or anxiety (feeling nervous or having worrying thoughts that are making you feel very tense), you might find our section on STRESS AND ANXIETY helpful
  •  if you are feeling ‘low’ or depressed particularly when you wake and this seems to make the pain worse, you might like to see our section on DEPRESSION

See also the information about headaches from the NHS Website