Do I Have a Migraine or Tension Headache?

difference between migraine and tension headache

If you have this question in mind, you likely can’t tell the difference between migraine and tension headache. So we’re here to help.

To put it simply, tension headaches belong to the category of common headaches, alongside sinus headaches and cluster headaches. On the other hand, migraines are more than just a headache, as they are a neurological condition.

Take note of the distinguishing characteristics of a migraine and tension headache to administer proper pain relief and management.


Tension Headaches Up Close

Tension headaches make a person experience tight pressure on both sides of the head. While the pain can be distracting, it is not debilitating.  As it is a common headache, the tension can range from mild to moderate.


The common cause of this type of headache is brought about by muscle tension in the head, face, neck and shoulder. While it is usually caused by stress, it is not the sole reason for its symptoms.

Other causes of tension headaches are:

  • Eyestrain
  • Neck misalignment
  • Disturbed sleep
  • TMJ disorder

Signs and Symptoms

Telling the difference between a migraine and tension headache shouldn’t be difficult for anyone. Here are some characteristics that can help you know if you have a tension headache:

  • Tightening feeling around the head
  • Pain that starts from the front of the head or near the optical area then spreads through the entire head
  • Episodic tension headaches are mild to moderate and can persist for 30 minutes, while chronic tension headaches can last from 15 days to a month and can be even more painful as the day progresses.


How to Stop Your Tension Headache Naturally

Over-the-counter pain medications are usually the immediate relief at the onset of the pain. However, in cases where you don’t want to experience side effects, there are always natural home remedies to ease the tension headache pain.

Relaxation and breathing techniques

When subjected to stress, our bodies tend to respond by tensing up, as evidenced by tight shoulders, back, and neck muscles. When this happens, drop your shoulders when they’re scrunched up and too high and keep them relaxed. Also, take periodic deep breathing exercises t to relieve the tension.

Cayenne pepper

Cayenne contains a substantial amount of capsaicin and effectively relieves pain and inflammation. Capsaicin is known for its pain inhibiting characteristics and remarkably reduces discomfort. 


Almonds is another natural remedy and a healthier option for pain management. Almonds contain salicin, which is also present in some over-the-counter pain killers. Eating almonds can help ease the pain of tension headaches. 

Upper cervical care

Upper neck misalignment is yet another highly possible factor that causes a tension headache. If the top vertebrae of the spine are found to be misaligned, it can highly add tension to your spinal cord causing tension-type headaches. 

In a study of 100 headache cases, it has been found that most patients with common headaches reduced their symptoms after four months of receiving upper cervical chiropractic care. They started experiencing positive results right after the first adjustment was made. 

Through upper cervical chiropractic care, patients can benefit from a safe, natural and drug-free intervention relieving their tension headaches. 

difference between migraine and tension headache






Migraines Up Close

Migraines, unlike tension headaches, are characterized by throbbing pain and are usually experienced on one side of the head.

A migraine hurts beyond just a common headache. This neurological condition can cause debilitating throbbing and pulsating pain that can leave you in bed for days. In addition, sensitivity to light, sound, movement and other triggers may cause nausea, dizziness, numbness and irritability, possible temporary loss of vision and more.


The exact cause of migraine is idiopathic. It has been noted that your genes and environment may play a big role in acquiring it.

Studies have also shown that getting a migraine is highly likely with increased levels of certain body chemicals like hormones, which is why migraines are more common in females than males.

Signs and Symptoms

For someone who has not experienced both conditions, it can really be quite confusing to distinguish the difference between a migraine and tension headache.

Migraine headaches begin when you become highly sensitive to bright, flashing lights and sounds. You will likewise experience a tingling sensation in your arm and face.


How to Prevent Migraines

The reason for migraine attacks may vary from one patient to another. It is then advisable to note regularly (you may keep a migraine journal) what you did last before experiencing a migraine attack. 

Some factors to take note of:

  • Your food and drink intake
  • Your sleeping hours
  • Your last activity
  • Weather changes

Prescribed Medication for Migraineurs

Migraine can be avoided or relieved with beta-blockers like propranolol,  analgesics, anticonvulsants, NSAIDs, triptans, dihydroergotamine, amitriptyline, prochlorperazine, acetaminophen, and the like.

It is always best to consult with a qualified physician to obtain the appropriate prescription.


A Natural Solution for Migraines (and Even Tension Headaches)

In cases where every remedy possible has been ruled outfrom avoiding triggers to taking medication, it may be advisable to consider a different approach for seeking migraine relief.

There have been many cases where migraines have been caused by upper cervical or spinal misalignment, as brought about by poor posture. If this is also your case, seeking upper cervical care is a logical action to take.

If you want to know more about the difference between a migraine and tension headache, check out our directory to visit an upper cervical practice near you.


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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.