External Compression Headaches

What are External Compression Headaches?

An external compression headache could develop when a person wears something on their head that places a continuous amount of pressure on the scalp or forehead.

For example, if you are an athlete who wears a helmet or protective goggles, you may suffer from external compression headaches.

Headbands, as well as tightly fitting hats, can also trigger these headaches.

What are the Symptoms of External Compression Headaches?

External compression headache pain can be described as a constant, but moderate, amount of pressure on the head.

The pain will be most severe in the areas of the head where an object is placing pressure on the skull. This pain could also become progressively more intense the longer that the head-wear is worn.

External Compression Headaches Causes

Compression headaches are common in people that frequently wear accessories or equipment on their heads or tight hairstyles. They are most frequently reported in athletes that are required to wear headgear for sporting competition reasons and practice, as helmets put pressure on the skull and scalp. Compression headaches are also a common complaint in the winter when people begin wearing hats and headbands. Heavy headsets and headphones are also a factor since they can put pressure on the temples and top of the head if they are too tight or too heavy.

A similar effect is seen in women that wear their hair pulled up tightly away from their face. While the pressure is in the opposite direction, it can put stress on the nerves in the scalp and cause headaches. It is advised that buns and ponytails be loose enough to be comfortable.

How are External Compression Headaches Treated?

The best way to treat an external compression headache is by simply removing whatever is on your head that is causing excess pressure. Many people find that removing the head wear will cause the headache to fade away on its own, so they often do not even need to see their doctor about their headaches.

However, if you find that you suffer from external compression headaches that do not go away once you remove your head wear, you should speak to your doctor to rule out other conditions.

If you suffer from migraines, you should avoid wearing head wear that is tight and applies pressure to your head, as attacks can be triggered by doing so. In that case, you would need to take migraine medication in order to get relief.

External Compression Headache Prevention

In order to avoid them, buy hats and headbands that are firm-fitting but not tight enough to cause painful pressure. If your scalp or forehead becomes sore after wearing the garment for more than an hour, that is a sign that it is too tight and you should buy a new one.

During the winter, invest in stretchable beanies and soft hats for the head instead of tight-fitting garments. If you wear glasses or sunglasses, make sure that the arms are wide enough for your head so that they do not put pressure on your skull. Headphones should also be sized appropriately to not put pressure on the top or sides of the head, as this can also cause compression headaches.

Likewise, athletes who must wear helmets, sweatbands, or goggles should try to get equipment that fits well and provides adequate protection. Massaging the scalp and taking warm showers can help with preventing headaches or alleviating existing pain.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017
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