Headache From Headphones: Finding the Hidden Culprit

Understanding, Managing and Preventing Headaches Induced by Headphones


Are you constantly bothered by headaches after using your headphones for extended periods? Don’t worry; you are not alone!

Headaches induced by headphones are a widespread problem that can make simple activities such as listening to music or a podcast, or watching your favorite movie a suffering and painful ordeal. In this blog, we will discuss reasons why headphones cause headaches and prevention tips. Read further to know more.

Possible Headaches Induced by Headphones

Headaches from headphones may manifest in different forms. While there is no medical or scientific evidence correlating these headache types with headphones usage, we’ve compiled this list based on feedback from our readers and internet research. 

Potential Types of Headaches Induced by Headphones
Potential Types of Headaches Induced by Headphones

1. External Compression Headaches

Headphones users commonly experience external compression headaches. The causes of these headaches are continued pressure on your scalp or head, resulting in constant pain and discomfort. In most cases, ill-fitting or tight headphones cause external compression headaches. 

2. Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches come with debilitating, throbbing and pulsating pain. They can also lead to nausea, sensitivity to light, and vomiting. Even though headphones do not cause these headaches directly, specific factors associated with headphones and headphones’ usage such as high volume, tight fit, prolonged use, heavy bass, etc., can lead to migraine headaches. 

Per a study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology, there is a connection between migraine and people’s increased awareness of sound. Therefore, per the study, suppressing certain sounds can provide relief for migraine patients. 

3. Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are characterized by a mild, aching pain, which typically feels like constant pressure on the head. The clamping force of tight headphones may lead to tension headaches.

4 Reasons Why Headphones Cause Headaches and Prevention Tips

There are four reasons why you may be experiencing a headache after using your headphones. These include:

1. Ill-Fitted or Poorly-Designed Headphones

Wearing ill-fitted or poorly designed headphones can result in headaches due to the strain and constant pressure they exert on your ears and head. Here’s a list of factors that can contribute to an ill-fitting or a poor design in headphones:

  • Earcups that do not conform to the shape of your ears or are too small
  • A headband that is too loose or too tight
  • Insufficient padding on the headband or earcups
  • Bulky headphones
Ill-Fitted Headphones
Ill-Fitted Headphones

How to Prevent Headaches Caused by Ill-Fitted or Poorly-Designed Headphones

  • Choose comfortable headphones with the right fit and ergonomics. 
  • Pick a suitable option between on-ear and over-ear headphones depending on the shape and size of your ears. In the case of in-ear headphones, ensure the headphones you are buying comprise eartips of different sizes to provide you with the best possible fit. 
  • Buy headphones with adjustable headbands and earcups to ensure a proper fit and eliminate the stream caused by ill-fitted or poorly designed headphones. 
  • Look for headphones with sufficient padding on the headband and earcups.
  • Prioritize headphones with a lightweight design to minimize strain on your head, ears, neck, and shoulders.

2. Strong Clamping Force of the Headband and Earcups 

Excessive or prolonged use of on-ear or over-ear headphones with strong clamping force can lead to headaches.

When the clamping force of the headband and earcups is overbearing, you may feel excess pressure on your ears or temples, or experience restricted blood flow, resulting in a headache. 

The excess pressure from the high clamping tension can also lead to muscle stiffness or strain in your neck and shoulders.

Strong clamping force
Strong Clamping Force

How to Prevent Headaches Caused by Headphones’ Strong Clamping Force

Bone Conduction Headphones
Bone Conduction Headphones
  • Buy headphones with adjustable headbands and earcups to ensure a relaxed fit and minimize clamping force on your head and ears. 
  • Consider adding extra padding to your headphones’ earcups and headbands to enhance comfort and minimize your headphones’ clamping force. 
  • Avoid prolonged use of headphones.

3. High Volume

Listening to music at high volume can also lead to headaches. 

As already described in the previous section, research suggests that sensitivity to sound is a common migraine trigger. Therefore, music at higher volumes or noise levels can trigger headaches due to auditory fatigue, a temporary reduction in hearing sensitivity due to an overstimulated auditory system. 

High volume
High Volume

How to Prevent Headaches Caused by Higher Volumes in Your Headphones

  • Use noise-canceling headphones to eliminate background noise and minimize the need to increase your headphones’ volume.
  • Adopt the 60/60 rule. Listen to music at no more than 60% of your headphones’ maximum volume for up to 60 minutes only. 
  • Use volume-limiting features available in your audio devices and smartphones.
  • Avoid using your headphones in noisy environments to eliminate the need for using higher volumes. 

4. Poor Posture While Wearing Headphones

Continuous use of headphones with a poor posture while working on your laptop/PC or using your smartphone can lead to muscle stiffness or strain in the neck, shoulders or arms, resulting in headaches. 

Poor Posture While Wearing Headphones
Poor Posture While Wearing Headphones

Some poor-posture-related issues that can lead to headaches are:

  • Hunched shoulders: Hunching or slouching your shoulders while wearing headphones can cause muscle tension in the shoulders, neck and upper back. This muscle tension can lead to occasional or frequent headaches. 
Person With Hunched Shoulders vs. Person With Spine and Neck Straight
Person With Hunched Shoulders vs. Person With Spine and Neck Straight
  • Leaning forward posture: When using headphones while working, watching TV or using smartphones, many people have the tendency to lean forward to look at the screen. This leaning forward posture can lead to muscle stiffness or strain in the shoulders, neck, and upper back, resulting in headaches. 
Person With Forward-Leaning Posture vs. Person With Spine and Neck Straight
Person With Forward-Leaning Posture vs. Person With Spine and Neck Straight

How to Prevent Headaches Caused by Poor Posture While Wearing Headphones

  • Maintain the correct posture with your shoulders relaxed and pull back. Sit straight and avoid bending your head forward to prevent muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. 
  • Ensure your computer’s or smartphone’s screen is at your eye level to minimize pressure on your neck and spine, reducing the risk of headaches.
Ensure Your Computer’s or Smartphone’s Screen Is at Your Eye Level
Ensure Your Computer’s or Smartphone’s Screen Is at Your Eye Level
  • Use ergonomic furniture with adjustable features and adequate lumbar support. 
  • Avoid using your headphones for prolonged periods in the same posture. While using headphones for extended periods, take regular breaks as and when you start feeling muscle tension in your upper body. Move around, stretch, and stand to alleviate muscle tension and blood flow issues that can result in headaches.

Final Thoughts

It is vital to understand the potential causes of headaches caused by headphones and identify ways to prevent headaches from ruining your day. 

With these quick prevention tips and precautions in mind, you can enjoy your favorite music, podcasts, TV shows, movies, etc., without any discomfort.