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5 Types of Headaches & What to do About Them


Headaches can be categorized into different types and can be difficult to diagnose. There are plenty of potential causes of headaches and a thorough history and examination must be performed to increase the odds of an accurate diagnosis. Even with the background information and evaluation often times we are still relying on probability rather than certainty-headaches are among the toughest conditions to accurately diagnose. The more inaccurate the diagnosis, the less likely the treatment method(s) selected will be effective.

Regardless of the type you are experiencing, you’ve likely realized that headaches can be frustrating and sometimes debilitating.  Once present the symptoms can interfere with your work, enjoying your favorite activities and even affect mood.

Understanding The 5 Types Headaches


Tension headaches are the most common type of headache.  They feel like you have a constant ache or pressure around the head.  Symptoms are typically most intense around your temples or at the back of your head and neck. Tension type are not as severe as migraines, and fortunately you usually won’t experience nausea or vomiting.

Tension headaches may be caused by the contraction of neck and scalp muscles and are often amplified with stress.


Often times people are convinced their headache is a migraine-this is understanding as their symptoms often are debilitating and a migraine seems like a probable diagnosis.

Migraines can have a genetic component and are diagnosed using certain the following criteria.

• At least five previous episodes of headaches
• Lasting between 4–72 hours
• At least two out of these four: one-sided pain, throbbing pain, moderate-to-severe pain, and pain that interferes with, is worsened by, or prohibits routine activity • At least one associated feature: nausea and/or vomiting, or, if those are not present, then sensitivity to light and sound

About 15%-20% of people with migraines experience aura prior to their headache.  Symptoms of aura may include visual changes and/or numbness.

Los Angeles Times reports that more than 10% of the population suffers from migraine, a headache pattern so severe that it is often described as debilitating.  With nausea, sensitivity to light and dizziness often accompanying the searing pain, it is easy to see why sufferers seek advice anywhere from old wives’ tales to neurologists offices about how to prevent and treat the pain and discomfort.

Evidence suggesting the most common triggers for migraine is varied and debated, including everything from cheese-free diets to cutting down consumption of caffeine.  While the causes of the headaches remain uncertain, thanks to Dr. Andrew Bang, chiropractor at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative MedicineCincinnati chiropractors may offer new hope to Queen City migraine sufferers.

See our blog post on migraines here: /blog/3-ways-a-visit-to-the-chiropractor-may-provide-relief-for-cincinnati-migraine-sufferers


Cluster headaches affect more men than women.  They are recurring headaches that affect you in groups – or cycles maybe a better word . Cluster headaches will typically appear suddenly and are characterized by severe, debilitating pain on one side of the head.  Often, they are accompanied by a watery eye, runny nose and nasal congestion on the same side of the face.

During an attack, you will often feel restless and unable to get comfortable.  If you suffer from migraines you will likely want to lie down, this is not the case if you suffer from cluster headaches. The cause  is unknown, but there may be a genetic component.


Headache symptoms may arise when you have a sinus that becomes inflamed — often due to an infection. Sinus headaches are often accompanied  with a fever and can be diagnosed by symptoms or the presence of pus viewed through a special type of scope.

A more effective treatment method for sinus headaches due infection are antibiotics, antihistamines and/or decongestants. (To learn more, try this Sinus Infection Quiz.)


Ironically, if you overuse pain medications and/or anti-inflammatory medications, you may experience rebound headaches.  The most common culprits include common medications like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), in addition to prescription drugs.

There is a convincing theory a lot of experts agree on that too much medication can cause the brain to shift into an excited state, which triggers more headaches. Another well agreed upon explanation is that rebound headaches may be a symptom of withdrawal as the level of medicine drops in the bloodstream.

If you have tried the traditional approaches why do you keep experiencing headaches?

The common approach to relieving headaches is to take medication. Anti-inflammatory may be used in hopes that reducing inflammation will reduce symptoms. Muscle relaxers are sometimes used hoping that reducing muscle tension will lessen the pain. Sometimes narcotic pain relievers will be prescribed in an attempt to disguise symptoms. And sometimes a “shotgun approach” of all 3 will be prescribed-likely because the physician has no clue what the pain generator is.

The primary reason that medications may not provide resolution is that they do not address any underlying problems with the tissues in the neck (muscles, nerves, joints, ligaments, fascia), posture, work space, stress or environmental triggers (sugar, msg, caffeine, allergens, etc) that may be involved. If these underlying issues are not addressed you will be caught in a pain-medication-pain cycle. The end result is often temporary relief and dependence on medication. Then you are at risk of the potential side effects associated with those medications.

Unfortunately, adhesion formation, scar tissue, trigger points, muscle tightness, nerve entrapment and abnormal joint function aren’t even considered in most cases. Research has shown that up to 78% of headaches are cervicogenic. The term cervicogenic simply refers to the cervical spine (neck).

Following a thorough history and examination we are often able to identify the pain generator. Once the pain generator has been identified the appropriate headache treatment method(s) may be selected. An overwhelming majority of cases we see respond very well to Active Release Techniques (ART). ART is a movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Most headache cases are a result of sustained tension to the neck musculature (poor posture). Poor posture can cause your body to produce dense scar tissue in the neck muscles. This scar tissue can bind tissues, limit movement, decrease circulation and cause trigger point formation. Any or all of these may be the root cause of your headache.

To determine if your headaches may be cervicogenic in nature, please contact us for a complimentary consultation by clicking below.