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Tension headache in young children

What is tension headache?

Lots and lots of people get headaches (pain in your head.) The most common type is called a tension headache. People usually tell us this is a bit or a lot of tightening or pressing feeling all around the head.

Tension headaches can start because of stress, tiredness or sitting in one position for a long time. They can last for a little while but sometimes for a long time.


Your doctor has assessed your headache and has diagnosed tension headache. Headaches like this can come and go or may last for many days or weeks.

Tension headache is not dangerous. Lots of people have tension headache and live with it. However it can be difficult to do all the things you want to when you get this sort of headache.

If you haven’t already, you will be asked to complete a headache diary for 8 weeks. This means writing down how often you have a headache, how longs it lasts and anything you do or take to help make it feel a bit better.

How is it treated?

Often medicines such as ibuprofen and paracetamol (Calpol) will be enough to make this type of headache better. For others this may not be enough. In this case you may be referred to a physiotherapist for an assessment for acupuncture. This has been shown to be very helpful in treating and preventing tension headache.

What else can help?

Learning what you can do to help your headache, for example if your trigger is too little sleep then getting enough sleep helps. Other things which can help are

  • eating and drinking water regularly
  • taking regular exercise
  • practising relaxation exercises

What is stress?

Everyone feels stress. Our bodies are designed to feel stress and react to it. It keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger. However when stress persists the body can react and illnesses such as headaches can occur. The key to coping with stress is identifying stressors in your life, learning ways to reduce stress and managing stress. Stress is your reaction to any change that requires you to adjust or respond. It’s important to remember that you can control stress, because stress comes from how you respond to stressful events.

What causes stress?

Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers of tension headaches. During stressful events certain chemicals in the brain are released to combat the situation (known as the ‘fight or flight’ response).

Stress can be caused by anything that requires you to adjust to a change in your environment. Your body reacts to these changes with physical and emotional responses. We all have our own ways of coping with change, so the causes of stress can be different for each person. Daily stress such as from school or studying can lead to chronic tension headaches. Treatment for chronic tension headaches usually therefore involves stress management.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: PT14

Resource Type: Article

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