Headaches 101

 A headache is pain in any region the head. It can be on one side or both, be isolated to one spot, or radiate to other areas of the head. It can be throbbing, squeezing, or sharp. Headaches are incredibly common and have many different causes. Below is an overview of a few common headache types.

 Cervicogenic Headaches

  • Caused by stiff muscles and joints in the neck, will feel worse with neck movement. 
  • Pain begins in the neck and then is felt on one side of the head.
  • Can be treated with manual therapy, home exercises, and stretching.

Tension Headaches

  • Caused by heightened response to pain due to stress. The muscles of the neck, head, and upper back tighten and send pain signals to the brain. 
  • Feels like a tight band around the head. Often described a as “dull squeezing pain.”
  • Can be treated with manual therapy like massage, mobilizations, and exercises. Manual therapies can be used in conjunction with developing healthy habits and relaxation techniques such as meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, and yoga.

Cluster Headaches

  • It is suggested that irregularity in the body’s “biological clock” (hypothalamus) is the cause of cluster headaches. The headaches can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours and can be daily for a period of 2 week to 3 months.
  • Usually one sided, behind the eye (but can radiate) and will come in clusters or cycles. There may be redness and increased tear production on the painful side.
  • Cluster headaches can be treated with medications, lifestyle changes, and education. Activity can also alleviate symptoms.


  • Though the cause of migraine is not fully understood, it is thought that they stem from misinformation sent from the nerves to blood vessels. This misinformation results in a release of inflammatory substances into the blood, which is thought to produce a migraine. 
  • Generally felt on one side of the head. Throbbing, pulsing feeling.  Can come with many sensory symptoms called an aura.
  • Can be treated with medication. Manual therapy can be a good treatment in the short term. Trigger avoidance and migraine journals are other effective tools to decrease migraine severity and frequency. 

Red Flags

Headaches can be associated with more serious neurological conditions. Below are a list of signs and symptoms that should be seen by a medical doctor right away. 

  • Thunderclap headache (extreme pain with rapid onset, “worst headache ever”)
  • Weakness, numbness, confusion, speech difficulty, dizziness, and/or reduced consciousness that accompanies the headache
  • First headache, or new headache (different symptoms to previous headaches)
  • Headache triggered by exertion, bending, coughing, and/or sneezing
  • Age of new onset headache over 50 
  • Headache is caused by trauma (fall, bump to head, etc.)

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