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  • Dr. Mark Freund

Is it a headache or a migraine?

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

suffering from a headache or migraine

There are several differences between migraines and headaches, and this can be how often they occur and which areas of the head they affect. When there is pressure or pain in your head, it can be difficult to tell whether you have a typical headache or migraine because the intensity and symptoms are often similar. It is important to distinguish a migraine from a conventional headache so you can find faster sweet relief, better treatments, and prevent future headaches from occurring at all.

Most people assume that chronic headaches are migraines, but not all chronic headaches are migraines, and there are different types of primary headaches (including migraines) with varying symptoms.

man describing pain from headache to doctor

The main difference between a headache and a migraine is the quality of the pain: migraine causes severe pain, making it very difficult to perform daily tasks. Suppose you are not sure whether the headaches you are experiencing are migraines or just regular headaches, you should consult your doctor to determine the severity of your headache and the type of migraine or headache you suffer from so that you can narrow down a treatment plan that works.

Focusing on where exactly pain occurs in the head and what side effects occur can help the doctor determine what type of migraine or headache you have, leading to a more accurate diagnosis and better treatment options. Understanding the difference between the types of headaches you experience, whether you have inherited migraines or not, can help you compensate for any differences in relief more quickly. It is also important to note that migraines without auras last between 24 and 72 hours.

Headache Definition

Headaches cause pressure and pain in the head and can be mild or severe. The pain usually occurs on the side of the head, and also in certain areas in the forehead, temples, and neck.

Types of Headaches

headache types

Cluster headaches

Cluster headache is an excruciating type of headache that occurs on one side of the head or in clusters and is often mistaken for migraine. This means that you experience a cycle of headache attacks. These headaches occur in clusters and can also occur at different times of the day. They are usually very painful because the accumulation of headaches occurs simultaneously.

Sinus headaches

Sinus pain is common in migraines, but it can also cause headaches in other parts of the body. Confusion between migraine and sinus headache is common because the two types have many similarities. Most patients diagnosed with sinus headaches had migraines. Pain intensity is also another determining quality: In migraine patients, the pain is moderate to severe. The severe pain can throb and make it very difficult to perform daily tasks, but it does not get worse. In contrast, sinus headaches do not throb or pulse as much as migraines. The sinuses swell, causing pain in the cheeks, nose, and eyes, as well as headaches in other parts of the body such as the neck, shoulders, and legs.

Tension headache

The most common type of headache is a tension headache, and this type of headache can last up to 30 minutes. Tension headaches can be caused by stress, muscle strains, or anxiety and can also lead to migraines. Eye pain, stress, and hunger are often the most common causes of headaches, resulting in tension-type headaches or tension pain in the back of the head. Tension headaches can be chronic; the pain caused by tension headaches tends to creep forward, often starting in the back and then spreading to other parts of the body, such as the head, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs.

Chiari headaches

Chiari headaches are caused by a congenital disability known as Chiari malformation, which causes the skull to press against a part of the brain, often causing pain in the back of the head.

Thunderclap headaches

Thunderclaps are very severe headaches that develop within 60 seconds or less. It may cause an aneurysm, stroke, or another injury, and it could be a sign that you are bleeding from a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Migraine Definition

When most people hear the term migraine, they think of severe headaches, but headaches are only a symptom of migraine and can occur in varying severity and length. Migraine typically affects only one side of the head but can also affect both sides of the head.

man having a migraine

Although migraine is a specific type of headache, many people use the term migraine because they do not know the difference. So before you write off the pain as a headache, make sure you understand the difference between headaches and migraines. Compared to other types of headaches, migraine pain can be moderate to severe, and for some people, it can become so severe that they need to be treated with urgent care. In these cases, they often have other symptoms that can be a sign of a serious medical problem. When it comes to migraines, you should ensure that you treat the underlying health problems that can cause the symptoms.

Migraine Phases

Migraine is often localized on one side of the head, while different types of headaches are felt on both sides. Migraine headaches can cause a variety of symptoms and can also be a sign that the patient has a mixed headache pattern. When migraines become more common, their pain can feel like tension headaches. When tension headaches become more intense, they can resemble the sharp, throbbing pain of a migraine, but without the severe pain.

Prodrome phase

Also referred to as the pre-headache phase, this phase shows painless symptoms that occur hours or days before a migraine. While not everyone goes through this phase, migraine episodes can occur during this period, causing headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and other symptoms of migraine.

Aura phase

migraine phases symptoms

Auras are sensations a person experiences after they have a migraine. These sensations typically occur between 10 and 30 minutes after the attack and last up to a few hours. If you see signs of an aura, pay particular attention to the time of onset of the headache before informing your doctor. Aura is a sensory disorder that occurs during migraines and affects a person's vision, touch, and language. Examples of auras are blurred vision (blind spots that expand over time), confused speech, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and other migraine symptoms.

Headache phase

Some people can develop a migraine without experiencing a headache. Pain may range from mild to debilitating and may get worse due to certain factors.

Postdrome phase

During the last phase, a person may feel extreme exhaustion and sickness, but it is usually when the pain subsides.

Migraine Triggers and Causes

Distinguishing migraines from other types of headaches can be difficult, ranging from mild discomfort to severe, debilitating headaches. However, early detection and treatment of a migraine or a headache can help a person to undergo preventive treatment to minimize the risk of another recurrence. If you suffer from migraines, you may find that certain factors trigger their onset.


People with family members who suffer from migraines are more likely to develop migraines. Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and stroke have discovered a genetic mutation in the most typical type of migraine that occurs frequently.

Hormonal shifts

In women, changes in the menstrual cycle of hormones put them at a higher risk of migraines. In some cases, the pain can range from mild to debilitating and usually occur in the form of headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and other symptoms of migraine. Sound can cause pain and aggravate pain, as well as nausea and vomiting.

Also known as allergic rhinitis, it is another known trigger, as migraines are associated with inflammation of the blood vessels.

finding relief from headache


If a person takes migraine medication for more than ten days a month, this can trigger an effect known as rebound headache. Prevention is often the best treatment for migraine and headaches.

Treatment for migraine and headaches

Headaches and neck pain caused by migraines or tension headaches are not something you should live with or suffer with. Here are treatments to help alleviate migraine pain and headaches.

Chiropractic Treatments

From cluster headaches to migraines and tension headaches, chiropractic treatments are proven, safe, and effective for diagnosing, treating, and preventing headaches. Chiropractors help patients manage and treat recurrent headaches, including migraines, and other types of chronic headaches, with a variety of treatments, including acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and manual therapy. It can help with severe headaches, stiffness, pain in the neck, and in the surrounding area. During the treatment by a chiropractor, he may also recommend manual therapies or hot or cold therapy, which are also ways to relieve headaches or migraines.

treatments for headache or migraine

Acupuncture and Manual Therapies

Manual therapy can relieve migraines and tension headaches, and discomfort by focusing on the neck and back. Since most headaches are caused by stress, stress reduction measures such as acupuncture and manual therapies can also alleviate headaches and reduce future headaches.

Chiropractic Adjustments

Chiropractic adjustments can also alleviate acute and chronic neck pain and reduce frequent headaches, especially if you suffer from chronic headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, or tension headaches. You can rely on your trained chiropractors to help you treat headaches and migraines while avoiding side effects and complications.

How a Chiropractor Can Help

Chiropractors can help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches and reduce their duration and severity. Your licensed and experienced chiropractor will be able to recommend a treatment plan that includes chiropractic treatments and techniques that can help relieve headaches and treat the underlying diseases or symptoms that cause pain.

Your chiropractor can review possible neck injuries that can occur after a concussion and make cervical spine adjustments to relieve your neck pain and headache.

how a chiropractor can provide headache or migraine relief

Experienced chiropractors can make several chiropractic adjustments that improve spinal function and provide relief for headaches and migraines. When you work with your chiropractor, you can make the lifestyle changes necessary to see significant improvements in your condition.f you suffer from migraine or tension headaches and would like to learn more about chiropractic treatment for your migraine, please contact our team at Natural Chiropractic Care today.

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