Follow these steps for relief from tension headaches. Photo by Thinkstock.

What to Do When a Headache Strikes During Rehearsal

Tension headaches are often experienced by those in high-stress careers (ahem, dancers). Here's how to identify them and what to do when they strike.


Know the feeling: A dull, aching sensation, almost like a tight headband is squeezing your head

How to deal: If you get a tension headache while you're dancing, take an over-the-counter painkiller (like Advil or Tylenol) when you first feel it, says Dr. Lauren Borowski, an assistant professor in primary care sports medicine who works with dancers at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center. Or, you can try the exercises she recommends below.

Get physical: Step to the side of the studio or utilize your break time to try sub-occipital release therapy. Put two tennis or lacrosse balls in a sock and lay your head on top of it with the balls pressing against the base of your skull perpendicularly. Let your muscles relax around those pressure points. It may take several minutes, so stay in this position until the pain starts to ease, says Borowski. You can also ask a friend to lightly squeeze your trapezius muscles (the area where your neck meets your shoulders) while you breathe into the area for a release.

Prevention: To keep tension headaches at bay, Borowski recommends sleeping at least seven to eight hours a night, staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet. Since doctors think stress is a trigger, find ways that help you reduce stress and anxiety. Borowski warns that you should never take OTC painkillers for headaches more than two to three times a week. If they're occurring that often, see a primary care doctor for long-term management and to rule out other issues.

Latest Posts


Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

NYCB's Maria Kowroski Reflects on the Challenges, Joys and Mysteries of Balanchine’s "Mozartiana"

The first time I was called to learn Mozartiana, I didn't think I would actually get to do it. It's a coveted ballerina role in the company, and I was still early in my career. But I got to dance it once or twice, and then not again for many years. The ballet isn't in our repertoire that often, so each time we've performed it I've been at a different level as a person and as an artist.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Ask Amy: How Can I Overcome My Fear of Pirouettes on Pointe?

I have a terrible fear of falling when doing turns on pointe. I sometimes cry in class when we have to do new turns that I'm not used to. I can only do bad singles on a good day, while some of my classmates are doing doubles and triples. How can I get over this fear? —Gaby

Keep reading SHOW LESS
xmb photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

The Washington Ballet's Sarah Steele on Her At-Home Workouts

Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."

What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks