Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Tension headache is a widespread problem, with an estimated lifetime prevalence rate of 69% for males and 88% for females. Empirical evidence supports the clinical observation that daily stress is a powerful precipitant of tension headaches. Research also supports the contention that tension headache sufferers tend to appraise and cope with daily stressors in ways which exacerbate or prolong this stress. Because aerobic exercise (EX) has been implicated as a useful stress relieving agent, this study examined the use of aerobic exercise as a treatment for tension headache. A comparison treatment consisting of progressive relaxation, stress management, and biofeedback (PR), was used because of its effectiveness in treating tension headache. A total of eighteen subjects were randomly assigned to either treatment and participated in an eight week treatment. Four weeks prior to treatment, subjects monitored headache activity, and completed three questionnaires (State-Trait Personality Inventory-Trait scale, Orientation to Life Questionnaire, and Headache Locus of Control- Revised scale). Subjects monitored headache activity throughout treatment and four weeks posttreatment. The questionnaires were also completed by subjects immediately after completing treatment. Subjects in the EX treatment group also completed these questionnaires midway through treatment to determine the effectiveness of treatment at that point.

ANOVAs were used to compare the dependent measures between and within groups. Although trends toward improvements in average headache intensity and peak headache intensity emerged for both groups, they were not significant. It was also found that neither group showed significant improvements on dimensions measured by the questionnaires, with the exception of the curiosity dimension on the Trait State Personality Inventory-Trait scale and the health professionals externality dimension of the Headache Locus of Control-Revised scale. On these dimensions, those in the EX treatment group scored significantly lower than those in the PR treatment group across pre and posttreatment. When treatment groups were combined, peak headache intensity scores were significantly lower at posttreatment than at pretreatment. The lack of significant findings for both groups were likely due to small sample size; therefore, it is difficult to conclude whether or not aerobic exercise is an effective treatment for tension headache.