Non-medicine treatments for tension-type headache

The following non-medicine treatments may help some people, and are unlikely to cause any harm.

  • physiotherapy, including improvement of posture, massage, neck exercises, ultrasound and home exercise programs
  • relaxation training, which teaches people to recognise and control tension-type headaches using techniques such as breathing exercise and meditation
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychological therapy designed to teach people to identify and challenge stress generating thoughts
  • regular exercise
  • acupuncture.

Keeping a headache diary can help identify triggers for tension-type headaches. Avoiding triggers probably won’t eliminate your headaches completely but may reduce the number you have.

People with depression and anxiety seem to be at increased risk of tension-type headache. Treatment for these conditions may also help alleviate headaches.

  • British Association for the Study of Headache. Guidelines for all health professionals in the diagnosis and management of migraine, tension-type-type headache, cluster headache and medication overuse headache. Hull: BASH, 2010. (accessed 13 December 2011)
  • Bendtsen L, Evers S, Linde M, et al. EFNS guideline on the treatment of tension-type headache - report of an EFNS task force. European Journal of Neurology 2010;17:1318-25.
  • Brønfort G, Nilsson N, Haas M, Evans RL, Goldsmith CH, Assendelft WJJ, Bouter LM. Non-invasive physical treatments for chronic/recurrent headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001878. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD001878.pub2.
  • Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for tension-type headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD007587. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007587