External Compression or Swim Goggle Headaches

Also called swim goggle headaches, helmet headaches or supraorbital neuralgia, external compression headaches are caused by equipment placed on the head in order to work or play. Anyone prone to migraines can find that external compression headache suddenly triggers a crippling migraine. But on the whole, these annoying headaches can be cured.

What Do They Feel Like?

According to the Mayo Clinic, external compression headaches tend to come on gradually. The pain is around where your head equipment connects with your head. So, if you wear a hard hat for horseback riding, anywhere underneath your hard hat could become sore and gradually gets worse as the ride progresses. If you wear swim goggles, then the pain will be where the band presses against your head and around your eyes.

The pain is similar to having someone squeeze your head with their hands. After a while, your head begins to ache from the constant pressure. If you’ve never had someone squeeze your head with their hands, consider yourself lucky. But if you have had to wear a headband or hat that was far too tight, then you know what it feels like. John C. O’Brien, Jr., MD noted that one of his patients with external compression headache complained of “painful hair.”

First Step

External compression headaches may lead to longer lasting head and body aches such as tension-type headaches or migraines. Tension-type headache pain can spread down your jaw or neck and lodge in between your shoulders. The body often adjusts or tenses up in other areas such as the neck and shoulders in order to try and compensate for the pain felt in the head.

Although the causes of migraines aren’t fully understood, a small aggravating pain like external compression headache may trigger one. Many people with migraines need several small factors to fall into place in order to get a big migraine. Often these aggravating pains cause stress or eyestrain which can cause a person to breathe shallow breaths or miss a meal and suddenly they have a migraine.


In the heat of competition, you may not be aware of external compression migraine until the activity is over. You may be so tired that you may not realize that your hat or goggles are too tight. If this pattern keeps repeating, then you need to either get a bigger piece of equipment or adjust it so it isn’t so tight.

But in the pain of the headache, a cool ice bag and over the counter painkillers is what is needed. It’s good to sit down and just be still for about ten minutes. This not only helps the painkillers to work, but also helps you to calm down and relax, which can help to alleviate pain. Some people advocate a gentle neck and shoulder massage to help bring on relaxation. Others enjoy aromatherapy to help them relax, inhaling the soothing aromas of frankincense, lavender or even peppermint.

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