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What is a Tension Headache?

Tension headaches come in lots of shapes and sizes.  The common features between nearly all of them are a constant band of pressure around the head, usually on both sides but can be more intense on one side or the other. 

They vary from a mild background ache to borderline migraine symptoms, but doesn’t usually have any sensory changes, like nausea or light sensitivity.  They can be intermittent and come and go, or be persistent, meaning they are there all the time.  Various factors can trigger tension headaches, including stress, poor posture, lack of sleep, eye strain, fatigue, or jaw clenching.

Man with concussion holding his forehead.

Signs and Symptoms

In other words, there is a huge variety of signs and symptoms making them challenging to treat.  Medically, they are considered relatively innocuous because they aren’t as debilitating as migraines and there is seldom any significant underlying pathology causing the pain (such as arthritis or lesions) and are managed by medication mostly due to a lack of other medical or surgical options.

But when you dig a bit deeper, we start to see a lot of overlap with neck related symptoms. More often than not, tension headaches have underlying persistent neck pain and restriction which gets worse when the tension headache gets worse.  This tends to be overlooked and under reported because it isn’t the primary complaint that is causing you pain.  It may even be present in some capacity all the time. Neck related headaches (Cervicogenic Headaches) are caused by dysfunction in the muscles and joints in the neck, which in turn irritate the nerve roots in the space between the neck and skull and refer pain into your head through your temples and brow, just like tension headaches.

Physiotherapy Assessment

Distinguishing between tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches is challenging due to their overlapping characteristics. A comprehensive assessment by a healthcare professional, such as a physiotherapist specialising in treating headaches, is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.  Any of our team or 18 physiotherapists who all specialise solely in treating complex conditions from the neck up, will be able to determine whether your neck is the primary cause of your headaches.  We use a range of “hands on” treatment, including the Watson Method, (Dean Watson is the GOAT) and will expect to see a measurable change in your symptoms by 3 or 4 sessions. If there is no change, we can conclude that your neck isn’t involved and direct you to the appropriate clinician to help you further. 

Treating Tension Headaches with the Watson Approach

At The Headache, Neck and Jaw Clinic, one of our chosen treatment approaches is the Watson Approach, an innovative and highly effective method for treating tension headaches. Developed by Dr. Dean H. Watson, this approach focuses on identifying and addressing specific dysfunctions within the upper cervical spine that contribute to headache pain.

Understanding the Watson Approach

The Watson Approach is founded on the premise that certain neck dysfunctions, particularly related to the upper cervical spine, play a pivotal role in the onset and persistence of tension headaches. It emphasises the importance of assessing and treating these dysfunctions to achieve significant relief.

Assessment and Diagnosis

Our skilled physiotherapists conduct a thorough assessment, employing specialised clinical tests to identify dysfunction within the upper cervical spine. This precise evaluation helps us pinpoint the root cause of your tension headaches.

Targeted Treatment Techniques

Once identified, our treatment revolves around targeted manual therapy techniques designed to address the upper cervical spine dysfunctions. The approach often includes:

Cervical Spine Mobilisation

Gentle and specific mobilisation techniques aimed at restoring normal movement and function to the affected cervical spine segments.

Exercises and Education

Prescribing specific exercises and educating patients on posture correction and ergonomic adjustments to reinforce the benefits of the therapy sessions and prevent future episodes of tension headaches.

Patient-Centred Care

The Watson Approach is highly patient-centred, focusing on empowering individuals with knowledge about their condition and fostering active participation in their treatment journey. By understanding the underlying causes and actively engaging in prescribed exercises and lifestyle modifications, patients can achieve long-lasting relief from tension headaches.

Benefits of the Watson Approach

Targeted Relief

By homing in on the upper cervical spine dysfunctions, this approach offers more precise and effective relief for tension headaches.


The Watson Approach is supported by extensive research and clinical evidence, ensuring its credibility and success in managing tension headaches.

Customised Care

Each treatment plan is tailored to the patient's specific needs, ensuring a personalized approach that maximizes results.

Experience Relief with The HNJ Clinic

Our team of specialised physiotherapists at The HNJ Clinic is dedicated to utilising the Watson Approach to help individuals suffering from tension headaches. We are committed to providing compassionate care and effective treatments that lead to a life free from the burden of headaches.

Book an appointment today to experience the transformative effects of the Watson Approach and take a significant step toward a headache-free life.

Headache, Neck & Jaw Conditions We Treat

Our Brisbane clinics specialise in the treatment of head, neck and jaw conditions, many of which are notoriously difficult to treat. If you’re experiencing symptoms of any of the following problems, our team has the expertise and training to help.



Jaw and Orofacial Pain

Neck Pain and Trauma

Whiplash and Nerve Pain

Vertigo & Dizziness


Singing / Vocal


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If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort then don’t put it off - contact our friendly team today to make an appointment with one of our expert physiotherapists.

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