Exertional vs. Tension Headaches: Similarities & Differences

exertional, chiropractor for migraines

Headaches are, without a doubt, among the leading health complaints in the US. Statistics from the World Health Organization show that about 50 to 75 percent of American adults report headaches. A significant fraction of these cases happen because of migraines, causing people to visit a chiropractor for migraines. On the one hand, others develop due to other types of headaches, namely exertional and tension headaches. Are you familiar with these two conditions? 

Join us in our discussion below to know the similarities and differences between an exertional headache and a tension headache.


Comparing Tension and Exertional Headaches

Did you know that there are many types of headaches? You can ask your chiropractor for migraines for any headache-related questions you have. Two examples of head pains are tension and exertional headaches. Many people aren’t sure how to differentiate the two because they share similarities, such as the uncomfortable sensation they cause and their accompanying symptoms. Notably, they also have a few similar triggers like sinus infections, cervical subluxation, and stress. 

To tell them apart, you can look at their specific details. For starters, one of the critical differences between exertional headache and tension headache lies in the characteristics of the pain they cause:

  • Tension headaches primarily cause discomfort or a tightening sensation in the head, neck, and eye sockets. 
  • Exertional headaches cause a pulsating or throbbing pain, similar to a migraine episode. It only affects one side of the head and usually gets triggered by rigorous physical activity.

It’s also helpful to note that exertional headaches primarily get triggered by physical overexertion. The type of physical activities that can trigger the symptoms vary from one person to another. Some notice worse symptoms when they cough excessively. Others, on the one hand, get bad exertional headaches after sexual intercourse or a rigorous workout.    

If you think your pain stems from tension headaches, then you should steer clear of things that can increase muscle contraction in your head and neck. Some examples of these include food sensitivities, emotional stress, cold temperature, illness, poor posture, and lack of physical activity.

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How to Cope with an Exertional or Tension Headache

It pays to know the differences between an exertional headache and a tension headache. That’s because knowing which among the two you have allows you to find a remedy that can provide you with immense relief, such as visiting a chiropractor for migraines. Below is a list of ways to cope with exertional or tension headaches. 

Tension Headache

Tension headaches mostly happen because of increased muscle contractions. So, to relieve the pain, you need to focus on relaxing the muscles. Here are some things you can try:

  • Increasing your water intake to keep the muscles in the best shape possible
  • Getting your neck checked by an upper cervical chiropractor and receiving chiropractic adjustments
  • Joining stress management classes to help you calm your nerves and alleviate muscle tension
  • Trying alternative healing techniques like biofeedback therapy and acupuncture
  • Learning how to perceive pain differently with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Exertional Headache

As we have mentioned earlier, exertional headache often results from physical stress. However, sometimes it can be a symptom of another health condition like a brain tumor or coronary heart disease. Because of this, it’s vital to get a detailed diagnosis from your primary doctor. 

The results of your diagnosis can help you determine what remedies or procedures you should try. Usually, if it’s a secondary headache, it goes away once its underlying cause gets dissolved. Meanwhile, exertional headaches classified as a primary headache require additional care. Here are a few things you can try:

  • Taking NSAIDs to cope with the pain and discomfort
  • Receiving upper cervical chiropractic adjustments to keep your central nervous system in optimum condition
  • Using anti-inflammatory drugs to lessen the impact of your headaches 
  • Managing your blood pressure to prevent your blood vessels from contracting


Finding a Headache Remedy with Your Chiropractor for Migraines

Now that you know the difference between an exertional headache and a tension headache, let’s take a deeper dive into upper cervical care. Today, upper cervical chiropractic adjustments serve as one of the best remedies for headaches and migraine attacks. It uses an integrative approach to healing by restoring balance in your spinal column and nervous system. 

Upper cervical care relieves headaches by improving the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and blood to the head. Furthermore, the C1 and C2 bone adjustments also remove undue pressure on the brainstem, a critical organ that transmits messages to and from the brain. 

Once your bones go back to their usual alignment, your body starts healing. At this point, you can begin to notice less severe headaches and other accompanying symptoms. 

Constant adjustments to your topmost neck bones and the generous assistance from your upper cervical doctor can help you restore your vitality and prevent your tension or exertional headaches (or other types of headaches) from bothering you.

If you have explored all kinds of options for headaches relief but experienced very little relief, we recommend giving upper cervical care a try. It’s an excellent remedy to check out because case studies have proven their role in providing massive relief, even in patients with severe headaches. The adjustments are also extra precise because upper cervical doctors take the time to check the degree of bone misalignments using digital imaging techniques. 

Want to start living free from the grasps of debilitating headaches? Unlock a new and holistic approach to coping with pain and discomfort with the help of a local neck chiropractor. Find an upper cervical doctor located near you and book a chiropractic consultation.


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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.