Migraine and Thunderclap Headaches: How to Tell Them Apart

thunderclap headaches, upper cervical

Migraines and thunderclap headaches are two different types of headaches that can cause extreme pain. If you know the difference between them and their associated symptoms, then you’ll be in a better position to manage your headache pain effectively. In addition, knowing those will help you implement a better care plan for your upper cervical region to prevent these headaches from recurring.

In this article, we’ll look at how they differ from each other, what causes them, and how they can be treated.

The Common Conception

To build your foundation on these two head pains, let us give you the common concepts about migraine and thunderclap headaches for a fuller grasp and understanding.


The pain of a migraine is described as a throbbing or pounding headache that can involve only one side of the head or both sides of the head. Other symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light, sound, and smells often accompany a typical migraine episode.

Thunderclap Headaches

Thunderclap headaches are quite different from migraines. Notably, they are often intense and sudden in onset, with a sharp pain occurring for less than one minute before subsiding quickly (hence the name). An episode typically occurs when you’re sitting or lying down, but it can also happen when you’re standing up or walking around. The pain can be sharp or dull in nature and make you feel as if your head is going to explode.These can last anywhere from minutes or hours and set off nausea, vomiting, or dizziness. Furthermore, it appears to directly affect your upper cervical region, as it is often accompanied by pain radiating through the neck, face, and jaw. This may make it challenging to open your mouth wide enough, even to just take medication, without causing more pain.

Triggers of Migraines

Migraine is considered a vascular condition. Their cause is the contraction of blood vessels in the brain, which leads to pain. While the real cause of migraine headaches is unknown, some factors seem to play a role. These may include:


Migraines tend to run in families, and your genes can make you more prone to having them. However, studies often explain that migraines tend to develop because of other factors like food sensitivities and sensory overload. 


Your environment may also trigger migraines, such as certain foods or stress (both emotional and physical). Some medications can also trigger a migraine attack if taken too often or at an excessive dose.

Triggers of Thunderclap Headaches

Similarly, thunderclap headaches are caused by something restricting blood flow to part or all of your brain. A common cause is a tension headache, but there are others:


An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in your artery wall and can be felt as a pulsing sensation in your neck. If you suspect having a thunderclap headache because of cardiovascular problems like an aneurysm, call 911 immediately. If you suffer from migraines but feel unsure about your diagnosis, we suggest consulting your doctor just to be sure.

Arterial dissection

This occurs when there's damage to the inner wall of an artery due to trauma or repetitive movements such as coughing or sneezing that strain blood vessels.

Brain hemorrhage

Bleeding inside the skull can cause sudden onset pain because it disrupts normal brain activity. It can also set off painful thunderclap headaches.

thunderclap headaches, upper cervical

Symptoms of Migraines and Thunderclap Headaches

Migraine and thunderclap headaches are somewhat similar, as they are both intense and can cause severe pain that lasts for a long time. However, there are some differences between these two types of headaches.

The main difference between a migraine and a thunderclap headache is that while migraines have throbbing pain in your head and a chance to experience auras, thunderclap headaches are sudden, severe, and explosive-like head pains. Notably, thunderclap headaches begin suddenly and last for a few minutes with no premonitory signs.

Migraine auras demonstrate visual disturbances where one can see light flashes and blind spots or experience tingling sensations in one or both hands and face.

Upper Cervical Care For Headache Relief 

Upper cervical care is a chiropractic technique focusing on the topmost portion of the spine. It's based on the theory that misalignments in this area can cause or contribute to migraines and other types of headaches.

Upper cervical care works so well because it focuses on fixing the underlying cause - postural imbalances - and allows patients to gain control over their pain instead of relying on short-term remedies. Chiropractic care focused on the C1 and C2 bones is an integral part of headache and migraine management because it helps improve cerebral blood flow, reduce inflammation in the head, reduce muscle spasms and tension in the neck and shoulders and relieve stress. These factors all play a role in helping you manage and reduce your migraines or thunderclap headaches.

Find A Trusted Chiropractor Near You!

When dealing with such intense forms (and potentially life-threatening) of headaches, you must have a credible and trusted chiropractor. A seasoned chiropractor will give you nothing less than quality care, from identifying your pain’s causes to helping you understand your position and the best care plan that could free you from the clutches of your miserable headaches or migraine episodes.

If you need help finding one, there is Upper Cervical Awareness. You can visit our Find-a-Doctor page, which features a comprehensive database of all credible chiropractors in the continental US. So no matter where you may be in the country, you are sure to find help.

Find An Upper Cervical Doctor in Your Areato schedule a consultation today.

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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.