Overview

External compression headaches can occur when something worn on your head puts continuous pressure on your forehead or scalp. They often occur in people required to wear certain headwear, such as helmets or goggles, for their work or sports activities.

Sometimes an external compression headache is called "swim-goggle headache" or "football-helmet headache" or another name that refers to the equipment causing the headache.

People likely to get external compression headaches include construction workers, people in the military, police officers and athletes. People who wear tight hats and headbands also might get this type of headache.

The solution to an external compression headache is as obvious as the cause. Simply remove the headwear causing the pressure.

Symptoms

The pain of external compression headaches is often described as moderate, constant pressure. It hurts most in the area where the object is pressing on your head. The pain might worsen the longer the headwear is worn.

When to see a doctor

It's usually not necessary to see a doctor for a compression headache because it goes away, usually within an hour of removing whatever is causing the pressure.

Seek medical attention only if your headache continues after you remove the object.

Causes

External compression headaches are caused by headwear that places pressure on the head — including tight hats, helmets, headbands and goggles.

The headaches are believed to result from pressure on pain receptors or pain fibers that transmit sensation from the face to the brain (trigeminal nerve) or on nerves in the back of the head (occipital nerves).

Risk factors

External compression headaches can affect anyone who uses headwear.

Complications

With prolonged pressure, an external compression headache might trigger a migraine in people who tend to have them.

Prevention

To prevent external compression headaches, avoid unnecessary headwear.

If protective headwear, such as a sports or construction helmet, is necessary, make sure it fits properly and is positioned correctly. Try various styles and sizes to find the most comfortable options.

Also, if possible, remove headwear frequently to give yourself a break from the pressure.

External compression headaches care at Mayo Clinic

Feb. 06, 2018
References
  1. Headache classification committee of the International Headache Society. The international classification of headache disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013;33:629.
  2. Rahmani Z, et al. Helmet-induced headache among Danish military personnel. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. In press. Accessed Oct. 30, 2017.
  3. Krymchantowski AV. Headaches due to external compression. Current Pain and Headache Reports. 2010;14:321.
  4. Riggin EA. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 15, 2017.