Identify Headaches And Migraines

How To Identify Headaches And Migraines

When there’s pain or pressure in your head, it can be hard to tell whether you have a headache or migraine. Knowing the difference between these two painful conditions is important. You’ll be able to find relief faster and even prevent them from occurring in the first place. So, how can you identify headaches and migraines?

What Are Headaches?

Headaches are unpleasant sensations that can cause mild to severe pressure and aching. There are two main groups of headaches- primary and secondary.

Identify Headaches And Migraines

Primary headaches are independent conditions that cause pain in the head, face, or neck area. The most common types of primary headaches are tension and cluster headaches. 

Tension headaches feel like a band of pressure around your head. They can occur chronically, or just in single episodes. In fact, they affect nearly 42% of adults worldwide. 

They can be caused by things like:

  • Hunger
  • Depression
  • Lack Of Sleep
  • Arthritis
  • Poor Posture
  • Straining The Neck

Cluster headaches, on the other hand, are pain on the side of the head, and often felt behind the eye. They come in clusters, meaning headaches happen around the same time every day for several weeks on end. Studies show that they can last around 6-12 weeks.

Some symptoms include:

  • Watery, red eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Congestion
  • Severe pain on the side of the head
  • Sweating
  • Change in heart rate

Secondary headaches are the result of another medical condition. For example, stress, infection, or overuse of medication.

What Are Migraines?

Migraines are a type of primary headache that can cause severe pain, among other symptoms. Migraines can cause throbbing, intense headaches that can last a few hours to several days at a time. They usually affect only one side of the head but can be felt on both sides as well.

Migraines can fall into different groups, depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing.

The most common type of migraine is migraine without aura. They cause throbbing on the side of your head and can last between 4-72 hours. Migraines with aura refer to a disturbance in vision, speech, or touch, in addition to the throbbing.

For example, symptoms of visual auras include:

  • Flashing lights
  • Blurred vision
  • Zagging lines
  • Blind spots

Motor aura can include:

  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty writing
  • Difficulty understanding others


People who experience headaches or migraines probably notice things seem to trigger their symptoms. Triggers can vary from person to person. For instance, they can include anything from specific types of food to environmental changes.

Other triggers can include:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Lack Of Sleep
  • Hunger
  • Hormonal Changes

Treatment & Prevention

While there isn’t a cure for headaches and migraines, there are ways to treat symptoms and prevent them in the future.

To ease the occasional headache, making simple lifestyle changes can be effective. For example, staying hydrated and maintaining a regularly balanced diet. Also, avoiding excessive caffeine, getting plenty of rest, and taking breaks from computer screens rank among the top recommendations. 

Similar to headaches, lifestyle changes can help ease migraines. However, most migraine sufferers have found relief by means of physical activity. Specifically, combining a stretching and exercise routine that targets the muscles and surrounding tissue in the head, neck, and shoulders. Click here to learn ways to relieve neck and head tension.

For many, it’s more than simply treating migraines as they happen. It’s about working to prevent migraines before they appear or at the very minimum, reduce the strength, duration, and frequency. 

Physical therapists can identify the mechanical triggers of your migraine symptoms and help treat your condition by focusing on specific postural modifications. They will also correct muscle imbalances, use gentle soft tissue mobilization, and more. Their goal is to empower their patients to self-manage their pain symptoms and improve overall function.

Understanding the difference between migraines and headaches and determining their root causes can make it easier to find the relief you’re searching for. Call our office at (586) 884-4565 to see how physical therapy can treat your migraines so you can get back to enjoying life.

About The Author

Jaime Curl

I've explored many different fields within physical therapy, including acute care and oncology at Troy Beaumont Hospital, elementary through high school levels in the Troy School District, and outpatient physical therapy. As the office manager and marketer, I am able to combine my love for health and exercise science with my people skills, all with a dash of marketing and personal training. My hobbies include spending time with friends and family, baking, crafting, and watching my favorite movies or tv shows.

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