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Decode Your Headaches: How to Head Off a Headache

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Trigger: You've Spent the Whole Day Staring at Your Computer

The pain you're probably dealing with: A tension headache.

When you're stressed out you tend to unconsciously tighten your shoulder, neck and face muscles. The result: Blood flow to this area slows, irritating the surrounding pain fibers and creating a dull squeezing pain at the base of the neck and on both sides of the head.

While stress is the most common cause of tension headaches, anything that forces the neck out of alignment can contribute: wearing a bra with supertight straps, cradling a phone receiver in the crook of your neck, carrying heavy shopping bags or even working out with hand weights.

How to find relief: Aspirin or ibuprofen will often do the trick to combat occasional tension headaches. But beware if you're reaching for a pain reliever more than twice a week, since OTC medications can lead to rebound headaches. A better bet is trying a drug-free therapy, such as yoga or regular aerobic exercise. In addition, several clinical studies have found that biofeedback and relaxation therapy can treat headaches as effectively as drugs.

If you suffer from tension pain more than 10 days per month, have trouble sleeping, worry a lot or have mood swings, ask your doc to screen you for a depression-anxiety disorder. "It's common for someone prone to tension headaches to also be at risk for panic attacks or depression," says Robert Kaniecki, M.D., director of the headache center at the University of Pittsburgh. The good news: Antidepressants, such as a tricyclic or valproid acid, can treat both head pain and mood disorders.