Holistic treatment for tension headaches: Manage pain, regain functionality and quality of life with aerobic exercise and Body Awareness Therapy

Aerobic exercise and body awareness therapy (BAT) may help boost pain management, functionality, and quality of life in patients suffering from tension headaches minus the potential side effects associated with drug treatments, a study published in the African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines revealed. A team of researchers from turkey’s premiere universities examined 60 patients with tension-type headache (TTH) as part of the study.

“We consider exercise to have an acute analgesic effect and by increasing endorphin production in the body; reducing the negative conditions such as fatigue, depression, anxiety. This is because exercise decreases the stress level and decreases the negative conditions arise in human body resulting from muscle tension and stress-related chemical substance secretion into blood circulation,” the researchers said.

The patients were divided into three groups, 20 of whom performed aerobic exercise routines, while another 20 underwent BAT. The remaining 20 patients served as the study’s control group. The patients’ pain severity was measured using various scores including the Visual Analog Scale (VAS), Pain Disability Index (PDI) and the Headache Impact Tests (HIT). The participants’ quality of life was assessed using the  SF-36 test.

The results revealed that patients who either performed aerobic exercise or BAT exhibited marked improvements in pain severity at three months, six months and 12 months of treatment. The findings also showed that patients in both exercise groups attained a significant increase in quality of life. In contrast, patients in the control group did not display significant changes in pain severity and quality of life, the research team noted. (Related: Four fast and effective natural remedies for headaches and migraines.)

“[Exercise] provides relaxation, increases blood and lymphatic circulation provides more oxygen delivery to the tissues of the body and provides removal of toxins from the body more rapidly. Thus, it increases endorphin production in the body; decreases fatigue, depression, anxiety; enhances sleep and life quality,” the experts explained.

“We consider the approaches in which the active exercise programs to be applied to patients with TTH, and the BAT methods to be applied together, to be successful in decreasing the pain frequency, pain severity, duration of pain, pain-related medication use, pain-related disability; in increasing the quality of life and in reducing the TTH-related symptoms to minimum. As part of the active exercise program, even though the patient cannot exercise regularly, the patient should be kept away from physical inactivity by physical exercises as walking, jogging, cycling, and s/he should be encouraged about leading a constantly active life,” the scientists concluded.

A similar study published in the West Indian Medical Journal in 2016 confirmed that BAT may alleviate pain and fatigue, and improve the quality of life in women with tension-type headache and migraine. Data showed that patients who underwent BAT for up to 60 minutes in three sessions over the course of six weeks attained better scores in VAS and Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS) after the therapy. The researchers also found that patients achieved better scores in the Nottingham Health Profile (NHP), which measures the overall quality of life, following the exercise regime

Fast facts about tension headaches

Health Line entry noted that tension headache is the most common form of headache. According to the article, the condition may cause mild, moderate or severe pain in the head, neck, and behind the eyes. Some patients likened the condition to having a tight band around the forehead. The article also cautioned that muscle contractions are the primary cause of tension headache. Likewise, prolonged driving or computer work was known to trigger the headache. Other causes of tension headache include:

  • alcohol
  • fatigue
  • a cold or flu
  • caffeine intake
  • smoking
  • emotional stress
  • a sinus infection
  • dry eyes
  • poor posture
  • cold temperature

The article also included a list of symptoms associated with tension headache. These symptoms include:

  • dull head pain
  • pressure around the forehead
  • tenderness around the forehead and scalp

Aside from BAT and aerobic exercises, other natural remedies such as stress management classes, biofeedback, acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy may also help relieve the condition.


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