Headache: Tension-Type Headache

FP Essent. 2018 Oct;473:17-20.


Tension-type headache (TTH) is the most common primary headache disorder, with a worldwide lifetime prevalence of 46% to 78%. TTH causes greater disability and accounts for more missed work days than migraine. The etiology of TTH is thought to be multifactorial, involving genetic and environmental factors. The three subtypes of TTH are infrequent episodic, frequent episodic, and chronic. Patients typically describe headache pain as pressing, dull, and with the sensation of a tight band around the head. Nonprescription analgesics are indicated for management of episodic TTH. Prophylaxis should be considered for patients with chronic TTH, with very frequent episodic TTH, at risk of medication overuse headache, and who are unable to tolerate effective doses of first-line drugs. Amitriptyline is recommended as a first-line drug for prophylaxis. (This is an off-label use of amitriptyline.) Physical and integrative therapies for TTH management include electromyography biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, massage, and trigger point injection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amitriptyline / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use*
  • Biofeedback, Psychology
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Family Practice*
  • Humans
  • Injections
  • Integrative Medicine
  • Massage
  • Tension-Type Headache / diagnosis*
  • Tension-Type Headache / etiology
  • Tension-Type Headache / therapy*
  • Trigger Points


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Amitriptyline