My Head is Pounding – Is it a Migraine or Another Type of Headache?

Is it a Migraine or Another Type of Headache?

Is it a Migraine or Another Type of Headache? When a bad headache strikes, it’s easy to say you have a migraine.  However, the truth is that there are many types and causes of head pain. Therefore, it’s important to understand which type you’re really experiencing so that you can manage your symptoms effectively.

Is it a Migraine or Another Type of Headache? Understanding the Most Common Headache Types

Cervicogenic headaches

This type of headache actually originates in the neck.  When you break down the word cervicogenic, that’s exactly what it means: cervico = pertaining to the neck and genic = generated from.  The upper neck has many tissue types that can generate pain and cause headache. These include the joints between bones, discs, soft tissues, nerve roots, and vertebral arteries.  Cervicogenic headaches are, more often than not, accompanied by neck pain. Neck range of motion may be reduced, and the headache made worse by neck movement.

Cervicogenic headaches are associated with many other headache types including many of the ones listed below. They are generally associated with misalignments in the neck from accidents and injuries from your past that have led to damage that has never been addressed properly. If you have a headache with neck pain is important that you connect with an upper cervical specialist in your area so they can properly evaluate your upper neck to determine if your head and neck alignment has been altered.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches can cause severe, one-sided pain in the head, around the eye, at your temple, and towards the back of the head.  They usually present with irritated eyes, a runny nose, and drooping of the eyelid. Appropriately named, cluster headaches occur with a frequency between 8 episodes daily to every other day.  Headache clusters can come in cycles and are separated by periods of remission. Below is an example of the suffering with cluster headaches finding relief with upper cervical chiropractic.

Migraine without aura (common migraine)

When asking the question...Is it a Migraine or Another Type of Headache? It's easy to get confused between different headache types and even different migraine types. There is a migraine without aura, a migraine with aura, a chronic migraine, and menstrual migraines which we break down below.

A migraine is a headache disorder that causes severe, pulsating pain usually on one side of the head.  Migraine episodes are commonly associated with nausea, vomiting, and heightened sensitivity to sound, light, and smell. The headache phase can last anywhere from 4 hours to 3 days. The common migraine presents without any visual disturbances known as an aura.

Migraine with aura (complicated migraine)

For approximately 25% of migraine sufferers, their episodes include the aura phase.  An aura is a combination of visual and sensory changes that can range from numbness and tingling in the extremities to seeing zigzags, spots, or wavy lines.  For those who experience an aura, it will typically last between 10 and 30 minutes and acts as a warning sign that the headache phase is imminent.

Chronic migraine

A person suffering from migraines 15 or more days per month has chronic migraine.  There might be quite a variety of symptoms – some days a person may experience a more severe migraine episode and other days the pain might be more tolerable.

Menstrual migraine

Migraines disproportionately affect women, and some women are prone to experience migraines either in the few days before or after the menstrual cycle begins.

Tension headaches

The most common headache type around the world, a tension-type headache is sometimes referred to as a “hat band” headache because it feels as if you’re wearing a hat that fits too tightly and it’s squeezing your head.  Tension headaches can also cause neck and shoulder pain. Though tension headaches can drag on for days, the pain is usually moderate compared with the pain of a migraine.

Medication overuse headache

An unfortunate byproduct of having chronic migraines or headaches and using pain-relieving medications more than 10 days per month is the risk of developing medication overuse headaches.  This can occur with both prescription and over-the-counter medications that are used to treat migraine and headache pain.

Natural Care for Migraines and Other Headache Types

Migraines and headaches occur for a variety of reasons.  As you’ve read above, they can have neurological, vascular, muscular, and hormonal influences, to name a few.  There is one system of the body that governs the function of all the others, and that’s the central nervous system (CNS).  When problems arise in the CNS, they can be the underlying factor in the development of migraines and headaches.

The upper neck, oftentimes referred to as the upper cervical spine, houses a critical part of the CNS as it relates to migraines and headaches.  The upper cervical spine has two unique vertebrae, the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) that are different from the rest of the spine because they have some different functions.

Functions of the Atlas and Axis Vertebrae

  • The reason your head is able to move around so freely in all directions is largely due to the shape of the atlas and axis.  The upper cervical spine enjoys the largest range of movement of the entire spine.
  • The atlas and axis must support the weight of the head atop them.  Since head position has such a big influence on your body’s ability to maintain a sense of balance, these vertebrae and the muscles that attach to them are constantly working to correct your head posture whether you’re aware of it or not.
  • C1 and C2 protect the brainstem.  The brainstem is the link between the brain above inside the skull and the spinal cord that extends the length of the spinal column.  Brainstem irritation caused by an upper cervical misalignment can hinder normal neurological function as well as normal blood and cerebrospinal fluid flow.

If the upper neck has shifted out of alignment due to an accident or injury (whiplash, concussion, sports injury, work-related injury), or from wear and tear that naturally occurs over time, it can be the root cause that is triggering your migraine or headache episodes.

Upper Cervical Chiropractors

Is it a Migraine or Another Type of Headache? Regardless of the type of headache or migraine you're experiencing it is recommended that you have your upper neck thoroughly evaluated by an upper cervical specialist. Accidents and injuries from your past can have consequences today especially if you are struggling with headaches.

Correcting upper neck misalignments is the focus of upper cervical chiropractors. Using a thorough analysis, they measure and adjust the extent of the upper cervical misalignment for each patient. This high degree of personalized care allows for upper cervical care to be precise, extremely gentle, and yield long-lasting results.  

Many migraine and headache patients under care report a reduction in the severity and/or frequency of their episodes and a return to a better overall quality of life. To learn more about how upper cervical chiropractic can get you back on track, locate a provider in your community and schedule a consultation.

Find An Upper Cervical Doctor in Your Area

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Find an Upper Cervical Specialist In Your Area

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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.