If you don’t have direct experience with migraines, it can be easy to confuse them with a headache or think that a migraine episode is simply an extra bad headache.

Being able to differentiate between a migraine episode and a headache can be important when it comes to feeling better faster.  When it comes to telling the difference between a “common” headache and a migraine attack, there are key elements to look for that can help you identify what’s going on.  Before we discuss the difference, let’s take a moment to understand the basics.


What are Headaches?

Headaches can happen for a multitude of reasons and can be characterized by different types of pain.  Some of the most common types of headache include:

  • Tension headaches can feel as if you’re wearing a hat that fits too tightly, which is why they’re sometimes called hatband headaches.  Tension can also be felt in the face, neck, behind the eyes, and at the base of the skull. Muscles in the neck and the muscles of the face and jaw used for chewing can spasm, leading to the onset of dull, aching head pain.
  • Cluster headaches can be severe and can cause sharp, piercing pain.  They typically affect one half of the face at a time, causing pain behind the eye, tearing of the eye, and a stuffy or runny nose.  They are called cluster headaches because they occur in a series – each episode can last for up to 3 hours and can recur several times a day.  A cluster can last for months and then a person may be asymptomatic for a period of time in between. Cluster headaches are more common in men and smokers.
  • Sinus headaches are felt predominantly in the front of your head over the frontal sinus area.  People who suffer from seasonal allergies or chronic sinusitis can be particularly susceptible to having sinus headaches.
  • Caffeine headaches, which can be caused by either too much caffeine consumption or too little if you typically have a consistent caffeine intake.  Caffeine is a stimulant that can provide an energy boost, but it can also affect the dilation and contraction of blood vessels which can be associated with the development of a caffeine-related headache.
  • Cervicogenic headaches come from pain that originates in the neck, or cervical spine.  The neck can feel stiff and can cause pain in the face or around the eyes and a headache that worsens with certain neck positions or movements.

To learn more about the connection between head and neck injuries and migraine headaches, download our complimentary e-book NATURAL AND DRUG-FREE WAYS TO END YOUR MIGRAINES by clicking the image below. Get a Free eBook on Migraine Relief Tips from Renton chiropractor Dr. Kurt Sherwood

What’s a Migraine?

A migraine is a neurological disorder that causes a collection of symptoms (including the well-known debilitating headache) that can be incapacitating.  A migraine episode is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, extreme light, sound, and smell sensitivities, and numbness or tingling in the face or limbs.  Just as with headaches, there are different migraine types:

  • Migraine without aura is the most common migraine type.  Symptoms include a throbbing or pulsating headache that is usually felt one on side of the head along with nausea, fatigue, mood changes, vision changes, and heightened sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch.
  • Migraine with aura includes specific visual disturbances that make up the aura phase of an episode.  Auras can appear from 10 minutes to an hour before the headache phase begins and can be one of the first warning signs that an attack is about to occur.  Vision disturbances may include seeing flashes, blind spots, zigzags, or wavy lines. Migraine with aura can also include problems with speech or language such as slurring or difficulty finding the right words.
  • Migraine without headache seems like a contradiction in terms, but it is definitely possible to experience all of the other migraine symptoms such as the visual disturbances of an aura, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, constipation, dizziness, and sensory sensitivity without head pain.

There are additional migraine types such as basilar migraine, retinal migraine, and hemiplegic migraine that can cause all of the traditional migraine symptoms along with temporary paralysis, vertigo, temporary vision loss, tinnitus, and more.


My Head Hurts – How Can I Tell the Difference between Migraine and Headache?

When your head is aching or throbbing badly, it’s easy enough to simply call it a migraine.  Looking at these three factors can help you to differentiate between the two distinct conditions.

  1. Symptoms – headaches are “simple”, meaning that they usually have only one major symptom: pain.  In contrast, migraines tend to be much more complex, including many of the common symptoms described above such as nausea, light sensitivity, dizziness, and fatigue.  Migraine pain is typically only experienced on one side of the head (though in a small percentage of cases it can affect the whole head).
  2. Intensity – the pain of a headache can, of course, feel pretty terrible.  However, in contrast, the pain of a migraine is often described as severe, intense, throbbing, or pulsing rather than a dull constant pressure.
  3. Duration of pain – a migraine episode can last for days at a time, while headaches will usually resolve in hours.


Natural Migraine and Headache Relief with Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care

If you experience either migraines or any of the headache types we discussed in this article, it’s important that the underlying cause is addressed if you are to experience any kind of sustainable relief. The area where the head and neck meet, the upper cervical spine, is a key factor for many migraine and headache sufferers in their quest for care.  The atlas vertebra, the uppermost one in the spine, supports the head and protects the brainstem. If the atlas misaligns, it has the potential to cause nerve irritation and disrupt the normal flow of blood and cerebrospinal fluid, leading to the development of painful headaches or migraines.

Upper cervical chiropractic care can help identify and correct these specific misalignments and allow your body to heal naturally.  Migraine sufferers from the Renton area can contact us for a complimentary consultation to find out more about how the upper cervical chiropractic approach can be part of a natural, lasting solution to the debilitating pain of headaches and migraines.






To schedule a complimentary consultation with Dr. Sherwood, call 425-243-1607 or just click the button below:

Schedule an appointment with Renton chiropractor Dr. Kurt Sherwood

If you are outside of the local area, you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com