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TENSION HEADACHE – A GAMING HEADACHE RESULTING FROM STRESS

If you made it here from the complete gaming headache guide – it is likely you are dealing with the tension type headache. If you have just stumbled upon this page – welcome! You will learn everything about this common headache type in gaming. While it is considered to be the most common type of chronic recurring headache – from my experience cervicogenic headaches (linkout) are the most common among gamers. The tension type headache is a close second. 

While I am quite confident you are experiencing this type of headache – I have one more question which will increase my confidence it is indeed a tension type headache!

NAUSEA, LIGHT AND SOUND SENSITIVITY? AURA WITH GAMING HEADACHES

This headache is not typically associated with symptoms such as nausea and other sensitivities. So in order for us to be more confident that you may be dealing with migraine, we just have to ask the following question

Do you ever feel nausea, sensitivity to light/sound/smell when you experience your headaches?

A: Yes, I feel nausea, sometimes I vomit and will be sensitive to light, sounds and smell during my headaches. 

B: Nope, I do not have any of these symptoms

If you chose A -> If you have these symptoms, I am more confident you are dealing with – learn more about what it is and what you can do here!

If you chose B -> We have met the criteria established by evidence to suspect with high confidence that you are dealing with a tension type headache. 

WHAT CAUSES THIS GAMING HEADACHE & WHAT WILL YOU FEEL? | TENSION GAMING HEADACHE

Tension-type headaches have been diagnosed for over 30 years yet the true cause of these type of headaches continues to remain elusive (despite being a multitude of clinical/neurophysiological studies). There have been several theories as to why these types of headaches develop all with one thing in common: STRESS.

Stress seems to be a major contributor to this type of headache leading to several physiological changes leading to the symptoms you might feel below. For those who want to know a little more about the actual physiological changes, I’ll describe it below. If you want to skip ahead to learn about causes,  what you will feel and what you can do, go ahead 🙂

Stress can mean more than the mental load you might feel dealing with certain situations. It can be physical too, affecting your muscles and joints around your body during movements and prolonged postures (what I talk about all the time). Both mental and physical stress can lead to changes in our brain, specifically in the nerves along our brainstem. As we are exposed to these stressors, it causes these nerves to become more sensitive. What this means is that it will take less “stress” in both the physical and mental forms to activate these nerves which our brains will perceive as pain or the “headache symptoms”

If that is still confusing for you – let me try to simplify it with an example

  1. Physical Stress of Sitting for too long with poor posture
  2. Nerves become more sensitive to the “physical stress of sitting”
  3. Poor posture causes headaches more easily

This is of course an oversimplified example. But the bottom line is this: Repeated stress or a major stressful event can cause our nerves to become sensitized.

So nerves are the source of the pain and stress is a major cause – let’s explore the causes more deeply

  1. Mental & Physical Stress – As I mentioned both types of stress largely contribute to these types of headaches. The REPEATED exposure to these stressors or triggers are what lead to this type of headache to be chronic. Major events of stress can also be a cause for the episodic type of tension headaches. How we deal with stressful situations, anxiety and even conditions like depression all have a role in these type of headaches. But just as I mentioned it can be physical too which means we have to pay attention to our…
  2. Posture & Environment – How we sit influences how much stress is placed on the muscles and joints around our neck over time. Poor posture will increase the likelihood the muscles and joints will become irritated and eventually cause the headache. In addition to posture we do want to consider lighting, specifically blue light. I’m sure many of us have been told how blue light can impact our eyes negatively. The light emitted from our monitors can overstimulate certain nerve pathways from our eyes to the brain leading to headaches. 
  3. Mobility of the muscles and joints at our neck – The more stiff or tight the muscles are surrounding our neck, the more compressive stress develops. This leads to stiffness in our joints which reduces its ability to tolerate repeated stress. 
  4. Strength and coordination of muscles in the neck. A group of muscles deep in our neck are important in ensuring can handle long periods of gaming without stress in our joints.

Don’t worry we will be going through what to do about these causes in the next section but first…

What are you going to feel?

With this type of headache – you might feel the following 

Where you might feel your tension-type headache
  1. The headache may feel like a pressing or tightening sensation around the head as shown. Typically felt on both sides
  2. The headache lasts anywhere between 30 minutes to 7 days
  3. Headache is mild to moderate in severity
  4. Pain does not worsen with physical activity

We should now be more and more confident you are dealing with this type of headache which means the next step is to start going over how we can deal with this headache!

STEP BY STEP APPROACH FOR HEADACHES IN GAMING (and one bonus)

We made it – lets finally get into what you need to do in order to help relieve this headache of yours. For the tension-type & migraine headaches it is a primary goal for us to manage stress well and take a holistic approach in doing so. While treatments with medicine can help – it usually does not address the underlying cause of your headaches (trigger for stress). So here is 1HPs step by step approach so you can get back to gaming without that pain in your head. These steps hopefully to no surprise address the CAUSES we discussed above which to be quick are again, STRESS (mental and physical), our environment (posture, ergonomics, lighting),  mobility (muscles & joints of the neck) and strength/coordination of the muscles in our neck. So step one is then to…

Understand and Identify your Stress Triggers – Dealing with stress to relieve headaches in gaming 

With stress being one of the largest contributors to this type of headache – it is our number one goal to determine what type of stress you are dealing with in addition to the triggers. So the first thing I want to ask you is to reflect on how much of your stress is physical and how much of it is mental. If you are sitting for extended periods (often with poor posture) of time using your hands repeatedly (all of us) – then there is a physical stress component. We will be getting to how to deal with physical stress in the next couple of steps.

But first, let’s talk about mental stress. This one is often harder to identify or grasp. But if we take the time to actually reflect – it becomes easier for us to identify. If you have had some of these warning signs or symptoms – you may be dealing with some mental stress. 

  1. Inability to concentrate
  2. Seeing only the negative
  3. Anxious or racing thoughts
  4. Feeling overwhelmed
  5. Sleeping too much or too little
  6. Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities

While it might seem like all of us have dealt with these symptoms – it is important for us to dig deeper and reflect on the TRIGGERS causing these types of behaviors or symptoms. Identifying triggers can be a whole article in itself but to give you guys some practical guidelines – here are some things to consider

  1. Are you sleeping enough? Get enough sleep – aim for at least 7.5-8 hours EVERY DAY. You will notice a large difference
  2. Are you getting enough exercise to better manage your stress hormones? Regular exercise can improve our ability to deal with stress through the release of endorphins, reducing fatigue, improving alertness/concentration & much more. 
  3. How well are you dealing with stressful situations? Do you focus on negative thoughts during the situation or are you able to relax and handle the situation step by step? What you focus on and how you react to certain situations truly dictate how you feel and can impact you negatively – especially with this type of headache. Performing relaxation techniques like meditation (headspace is always a great place to start) or keeping a diary for your headaches can be a great way for you to understand the circumstances at which you were dealing with stress which subsequently may have triggered your headache.
  4. Are you managing your time well? We often feel overwhelmed when we aren’t managing our time well. How well are you prioritizing your time and following your to-do list? Accept that you can not do everything at once and start to prioritize your tasks. Do what is realistic for yourself. The more you are active in managing your time, the better you will become at it. 

STEP 1: Identify your stress triggers. Start a headache diary to figure out how you can prevent the stressful situations and adopt some relaxation habits like meditation. 

Assess your Environment: Posture Ergonomics and Lighting to relieve headaches in gaming

I always say esports or gaming health begins with optimizing our environment. For us that means posture and ergonomics. Yep it continues to come back to this same issue. While I have created a full guide on this about what you guys need to know about your posture and ergonomics – I want to give you only what you need to know right here in this article

Posture with Gaming Headaches

The posture we need to understand with headaches is primarily associated with our upper body and how we position it. Let me demonstrate with this picture of what typically happens after prolonged periods of computer use. We’ve all seen it before… the head beginning to move forward from its neutral position which places extra stress on the muscles at our shoulder and behind our neck. The muscles at the shoulder have to contract and tighten to maintain the control of the head (you can think of them as holding up the weight of the head against gravity). This irritates the joints deep in the neck which can in turn irritate nerves coursing along those joints leading to the your headache symptoms. So what do we have to do to address this?

We assume this “neutral” posture as shown above! To do that all you have to do is remember three things

  1. Chest up – imagine a string is attached to the center of your chest and it is pulling you up and out. Do not overarch your lower back and have the movement only come from your mid-back
  2. Chin Tucked – Make a slight double chin, almost imagining as if your head is moving directly backwards to be stacked nicely over your shoulders instead of in front of your shoulders
  3. Shoulders Back – Instead of what is most commonly recommended “bringing your shoulder blades closer together” I want you to think of tilting your shoulders back as shown. The front of your shoulder will move back while the tip or angle of the shoulder blade comes forward into the back of your rib cage. It is okay if your shoulder blades move slightly closer together during this movement but it is not the emphasis of the movement 

While it is definitely helpful to know what to do in order to have better posture, the exercises shown in the following sections will help you address stiffness, weakness and your ability to control the muscles around the head to maintain this neutral position

STEP 2: Neutral Positioning of the neck: Chest up, Chin Tucked, Shoulders Back

Ergonomics with Gaming headaches

Our setup should allow us to maintain this neutral posture and for us that is often modifying the position of our monitor and chair. Those are the two main topics we will be discussing but if you want to learn more – check out the full guide of gaming ergonomics here. 

Gaming Monitor Position for Gaming Headaches

The position of our monitor can influence our neck position to accommodate clear vision of the center of the screen or what we want to focus on. It can also influence how much our eyes become strained which we will discuss in the next main section about lighting and gaming headaches. So here is what you guys need to know to optimize your monitor position

  1. Distance: Keep the monitor 1 arms distance away +/- the distance of your hand away from your head when sitting in the correct posture shown above. Too close and our eyes can fatigue more quickly as they have to look closer together for certain objects at the center (convergence for the nerds who are interested)
  2. Height: Your eye line should meet the top 1/4th of the monitor or slightly above so your eyes are slightly looking down at the center of the monitor. This ensures your eyes do not get fatigued as easily. 

Gaming Chair Position for Gaming Headaches

What about our gaming chair position? Basically it should allow the gaming monitor position to be met. If we sit too low and end up having to “look up” into the monitor that affects our neck position and how well our eyes work. The back of the chair should also not be reclined > 120 degrees to allow for your to lean back if necessary. Most of us sit away from the back of the chair anyways during gaming but we should be sure not to lean too far forward (this is more a posture thing but can be influenced by our chairs). If you happen to have a lumbar support – make sure it is not too low (include picture) to push you into this bent forward position

STEP 3: Adjust your monitor and gaming chair to the right distance and height to allow yourself to maintain the neutral posture mentioned above

Lighting with Gaming Headaches

Lighting is an important consideration we have to make in order to prevent the occurrence of headaches. When I speak about lighting I mean both the environmental lighting and the BLUE LIGHT associated with monitors and phones. 

We’ll start with what everyone always talks about – blue light. Blue light isn’t always bad as it is present everywhere and has a function in boosting alertness, helping memory, etc. but it is always about the DOSAGE and WHEN during your day you are being exposed to the light. We often stare at screens for long periods of time which means a whole lot of blue light leading to eye strain from reduction of contrast. This leads to dry eyes, fatigue, etc and due to some nerve connections from the eye to the brain can CONTRIBUTE to headache symptoms. 

So it is important for us to do a couple of things to address blue light exposure from all of the screens we use on a daily basis. My main recommendations for eye health with blue light are to

  1. Take enough breaks to ensure your eyes are given some rest from the repeated exposure of blue light. So take that walk or do some of things we suggest during your gaming break
  2. Use some filters – There are programs like f.lux which change the hue of your screen to decrease the amount of blue light given off from the screen. It can either be an app or a physical filter you can purchase to place on the screen. Some monitors now even offer blue light reduction “eye care models” like this one shown on amazon
  3. Computer glasses – Yellow-tinted lenses that block the blue light and again can help with eye strain. One of my favorite ones are the computer glasses offered from Gunnar

So what about your environmental lighting? Well we should have some nice back lighting to ensure we are NOT in a room with only the blue light. While it does not directly have  negative impact on your eye it often causes you to blink less because of the contrast leading to increased dryness and eye fatigue. So make sure you keep on the lights around you.

STEP 4: Pay attention to the your lighting – both in your room and the blue light from your screens. Get some new eye swag or take enough breaks to let your eyes rest! Or you can even do some eye relaxing exercises

KEEP YOUR NECK MOVING | EXERCISES AND STRETCHES FOR GAMING HEADACHES

Alright we’ve worked on our environment, now we need to ensure we keep the muscles and joints around our neck move well and have enough strength to manage the prolonged periods of gaming.  As I mentioned above stiffness occurs as a result of prolonged positioning with poor posture which can cause irritation of the neck joints and nerves leading to headaches. We need to start by addressing how well the muscles and joints around our neck move then develop the muscles surrounding the midback and neck to ensure you are able to maintain prolonged sitting positions without overstressing your body and causing headaches!

The table below is split into three stretches and three activation/strengthening exercises. Start with the stretches then perform the strengthening exercises.

Stretching and Neck Mobility

Postural Control and Deep Neck Strength

Upper Trapezius Stretch

Peter Pan with Chin Tuck

Neck Towel Mobilization

Quadruped+ Chin Tuck with Rotation

Mid Back Extension with Cervical Extension

Wall Posture with DNF Focus

 

STEP 5: Perform mobility and posture/deep neck strengthening exercises to ensure the neck joints and nerves to not become irritated to cause headaches!

WRAPPING IT UP – TENSION-TYPE HEADACHE, THE STRESS GAMING HEADACHE

Wow that was alot to go over. Let’s wrap this all up for you guys. You guys made it to this page because you are dealing with a stress-based headache. The source of the headache are the nerves along the brainstem becoming oversensitized due to stress. The cause of this headache is primarily due to mental & physical stress in addition to your environment (posture, ergonomics, lighting), neck mobility and postural muscle endurance/control. To help with this headache follow the steps we talked about!

STEP 1: Identify your stress triggers. Start a headache diary to figure out how you can prevent the stressful situations and adopt some relaxation habits like meditation.

STEP 2: Neutral Positioning of the neck: Chest up, Chin Tucked, Shoulders Back

STEP 3: Adjust your monitor and gaming chair to the right distance and height to allow yourself to maintain the neutral posture mentioned above

STEP 4: Pay attention to the your lighting – both in your room and the blue light from your screens. Get some new eye swag or take enough breaks to let your eyes rest! Or you can even do some eye relaxing exercises (linkout)

STEP 5: Perform mobility and posture/deep neck strengthening exercises to ensure the neck joints and nerves to not become irritated to cause headaches!

Just some other last thoughts – things like lack of sleep and poor nutrition in addition to other poor health habits can lead to these types of headaches as well so really think holistically in how you can approach your headaches. 

Hope you guys enjoyed this post! Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list and youtube page for more content like this and thank you so much for being a patron of 1HP!

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