Diseases and Conditions
External compression headaches

Updated: 3/20/2015


External compression headaches can occur when anything worn on your head puts continuous pressure on your forehead or scalp.

They're most often experienced by athletes who use helmets, eye protection or both for sports. External compression headaches are also sometimes known by names that come from the type of equipment causing the headache, such as "swim-goggle headache" or "football-helmet headache."

Other common causes of external compression headaches include tightfitting hats and headbands.

With external compression headaches, the solution is as obvious as the cause. Simply remove the headwear causing the pressure.


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.

As long as the headwear is in place, the pain may get progressively worse.

When to see a doctor

It's usually not necessary to see a doctor for a compression headache because it goes away when you remove whatever object is causing the pressure on your head.

Seek medical attention only if your headache continues after you've removed the object.


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

Risk factors

External compression headaches can affect anyone who uses headwear.


An external compression headache may trigger a migraine in some people if the object causing pressure is kept in place too long.

Treatments and drugs

To end your headache, remove the headwear that's causing the pressure. Further treatment is rarely needed.

If you have a history of migraines, wearing tight headwear may trigger an attack that requires migraine medication for relief.


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 carefully. Try various styles and sizes to find the most comfortable options.

Also, if possible, try to temporarily take off headwear frequently to remove the pressure.

Content from Mayo Clinic