Springdale Mason Pediatrics

Headache - Muscle Tension


  • Pain or discomfort in the muscles of the scalp
  • This includes the forehead to the back of the head
  • The most common type of recurrent headache


Call or Return If

  • Headache becomes severe
  • Vomiting occurs
  • Headache lasts more than 3 days
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Your child becomes worse

About This Topic


  • Gives a feeling of tightness in a band around the head.
  • The neck muscles may become sore and tight.
  • No nausea or vomiting with this type of headache.


  • Overuse of the scalp and neck muscles
  • Often from staying in one position for a long time. This can happen when reading or using a computer.
  • Some children get muscle tension headaches as a reaction to stress or worry.
  • Examples of stress in children are pressure for better grades or family arguments.

Pain Scale

  • Mild: Your child feels pain and tells you about it. But, the pain does not keep your child from any normal activities. School, play and sleep are not changed.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps your child from doing some normal activities. It may wake him or her up from sleep.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It keeps your child from doing all normal activities.

After Care Advice

  • Muscle tension headaches are the most common type of headache.
  • It's seen in children and adults. Most often doesn't start before 5 years old.
  • They are easy to treat at home.
  • Here is some care advice that should help.
Pain Medicine:
  • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed.
Cold Pack:
  • Put a cold pack or a cold wet washcloth on the forehead.
  • If the pain is worse somewhere else, put the cold pack there.
  • Do this for 20 minutes. Repeat as needed.
  • Stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
  • Lie down in a quiet place and relax until feeling better.
Stress Management and Prevention:
  • If something bothers your child, help him talk about it. Help him get it off his mind.
  • Teach your child to take breaks when he is doing school work. Help your child to relax during these breaks.
  • Teach your child the importance of getting enough sleep.
  • Some children may feel pressure to achieve more or be perfect. This may cause headaches. If this is the case with your child, help him find a better balance.
Prevention of Muscle Tension Headaches:
  • Sleep: Teach your child the importance of getting enough sleep.
  • Meals: Don't skip meals.
  • Exercise: Exercise daily.
What to Expect:
  • With treatment, most muscle tension headaches last a few hours.
  • Sometimes they last all day, but they go away with sleep.
Return to School:
  • Children with muscle tension headaches should not miss any school.

Author: Barton Schmitt MD, FAAP
Copyright 2000-2021 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC
Disclaimer: This health information is for educational purposes only. You the reader assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.
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