Migraine Headaches Versus Tension Headaches – Which Is It?

Difference between migraine and tension headache

There are many different headaches types, but the two that get confused the most are tension headaches and migraine headaches? Why is this the case? How can you tell the difference? What can you do to find natural headache relief? We will answer these important questions in this article.

Migraine Headaches Versus Tension Headaches – Why the Confusion?

Migraines are a neurological condition. That means that headaches are just one symptom of this affliction of the central nervous system. However, the mistaken view that migraines are just really bad headaches has led many to get the two mixed up.

Another cause of confusion is the mistaken idea that migraine pain always occurs on just one side of the head. Migraine headaches will always include at least two of the following four symptoms:

  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Pulsing or throbbing pain
  • One-sided pain
  • Exertion increases the pain

However, pain being one-sided is one of the less common of the four with only 59% of patients saying the pain was unilateral according to the American Migraine Study II. So, for example, if your head pain is severe and it gets worse with exertion, it may still be a migraine even if the pain is felt on both sides of the head or all around the head (like a tension headache).

Migraine Headaches Versus Tension Headaches – How to Tell Them Apart

The key way to tell migraine headaches apart from tension headaches is to consider any other symptoms you may be experiencing. There are some symptoms that are common to both, so while pain in the neck and tension in the shoulders are common symptoms, they don’t really tell you which type of a headache you are suffering from. There are, however, some symptoms that are unique to migraines. Some of these include:

Sensory sensitivity

One of the most common migraine symptoms is that the patient becomes very sensitivities to bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells. Overloading the senses can also trigger a migraine.

Nausea and vomiting

Nausea is one of the most common migraine symptoms. Fortunately, it is far less common to reach the point of vomiting, although nausea and pain can lead to this outcome.


Between 30 and 40% of migraines are vestibular migraines, meaning that they have at least one vestibular symptom such as vertigo. Other vestibular symptoms can include balance issues and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).


Patients who suffer from chronic migraines (15 or more days per month) are more likely to be depressed and also have a higher suicide rate, so it is important to address symptoms of depression in migraine patients.


This is often a prodrome symptom. In other words, being overly irritable may indicate that a migraine is going to strike in the next 24 hours. Other prodrome symptoms include things like food cravings, fatigue, mood swings, yawning, and frequent urination.


This occurs for about 20-25% of migraine patients. It is a set of symptoms, usually visual in nature, that indicate a migraine will begin in the next hour or so.

Visual disturbances

Vision is often affected by migraines. In fact, an ocular migraine can affect vision and may not even include a headache. Sometimes vision becomes blurry or doubled. At other times a person may see flashing lights or bright wiggly lines. Perhaps the most frightening symptom is a temporary loss of vision.

Where to Find Natural Relief from Tension Headaches and Migraines

There is a good reason that both tension headaches and migraines commonly occur along with neck pain. Much of the problem may actually occur in the neck. How can the top bone of the spine (the C1 or atlas) be responsible for headaches or migraines?

  • Blood flow – The cervical spine facilitates blood flow to the brain. A misaligned atlas can affect this proper blood flow. With less blood getting to certain parts of the brain, headaches or migraines can result.
  • Brainstem function – The brainstem is often a factor in headaches and migraines. Since the atlas surrounds and protects the brainstem, it is easy to understand how even a slight misalignment can lead to inhibited brainstem function.
  • Intracranial pressure – Upright MRIs have been able to show that cerebrospinal fluid may fail to drain properly when the atlas is out of alignment. This drainage issue can lead to fluid pooling in the brain and intracranial pressure.

How can these factors be corrected in a safe and natural way? We would like to introduce you to upper cervical chiropractic care.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic for Headaches and Migraines

Upper cervical chiropractors focus on the atlas to achieve better health and well-being for their patients. It all starts with a thorough examination and patient history. Then, diagnostic imaging is used to detect the precise degree of an atlas misalignment. This allows for a custom adjustment to be designed for each patient.

Adjustments are extremely gentle. These low force corrections are nothing like the twisting and bending motions that you may be used to from chiropractic care. Gentle adjustments are not only safer but also hold longer so your body has the time it needs to heal, and you save some money with more time between visits.

To learn more, contact a practitioner in your area today to schedule a consultation. If you are suffering from headaches or migraines, especially if you have a history of head or neck injuries, you may have just found the natural solution you have been searching for.

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.