Did you know there are 5 different types of common headaches? Approximately 45 million Americans complain of headaches each year. You might have just assumed that all headaches are the same, but by understanding the different headache types you may learn what is causing your headaches. Learning what is causing your headaches is the first step in leading to a possible relief in symptoms.

We are going to take a look at the 5 common types of headaches and show how they differ. These differences allow us to help treat each type effectively, or refer you to the correct provider for your headache. All of the headaches can be grouped into episodic or chronic. Episodic headaches occur less than 15 days a month for 3 months, and chronic headaches occur 15 or more days a month for at least 3 months.


Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. These typically present as a dull and aching head pain and last for a short period of time. The sensation of tightness or pressure is common around the forehead, sides, and back of your head. It is described as feeling a tight band around your head. Decreasing stress and muscle tightness is helpful in relieving these symptoms.


Migraines are often described as the most debilitating type of headaches. It is estimated that each year there are around 150 million missed work hours due to migraines. Prodrome is associated with migraines, and it consists of subtle changes that indicate an oncoming migraine. These changes can be mood changes, neck stiffness, cravings, or increased thirst. There are two types of migraines, with aura and without aura. Auras are symptoms of the nervous system, and typically include visual disturbances such as flashes of light or wavy, zigzag vision. Migraines usually last from 4-72 hours if untreated. Migraines typically present with pain on one or both sides of the head, throbbing or pulsing pain, sensitivity to light, sounds, and smell. They are also associated with nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, and lightheadedness. Post-drome, after the migraine, people can feel drained and washed out. This feeling can last up to 24 hours and can include feeling confused, dizzy, moody, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can be caused by stresses such as: food, drink, emotional stress, sensory stimuli, changes in sleep, and medications.


Cluster headaches are one of the most rare headaches and usually occur on one side of the head. Symptoms include red or watery eyes, runny nose, flushing or sweating of the face, or restlessness and agitation. These headaches are typically severe and commonly confused with migraines. The pain is described as boring, burning, or like they have a hot poker in the eye. They last between 15-180 minutes and occur up to 8 times a day over a 4-6 week period, and then they disappear entirely for 6-12 months. They typically appear overnight, and wake you from your sleep.


Cervicogenic headaches are a very common type of secondary headache. This means that the headache is caused by an issue somewhere else. These headaches arise from the cervical spine (neck). Cervicogenic headaches can be caused by poor posture or tight muscles in the neck. Symptoms can be made better or worse with movements of the neck. Symptoms are typically one sided, steady pain that doesn’t throb, pain staying in one spot, and neck stiffness. Cervicogenic headaches can last hours to days.


Rebound headaches are also known as medication overuse headaches. This headache occurs when you stop taking a medication that you have been taking for a long period of time. The headaches arise from withdrawal of a medication or substance. This is commonly seen in caffeine withdrawal. Symptoms include nausea, restlessness, and irritability. Rebound headaches typically occur first thing in the morning, get better with medication, and then gets worse when the medication wears off.

When to consult a doctor:

The Mayo Clinic suggests seeing a doctor for headaches for the following:

  • You have two or more headaches a week.

  • You take medication for headaches two or more times a week.

  • Changes in the pattern of headaches, both episodic and chronic.

When to seek emergency help:

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, seek emergency care:

  • Sudden severe headache, described as the worst you’ve ever had

  • Headache with a fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or speaking difficulties

  • Headache after a head injury, especially if the headache gets worse

If you have any questions or want to know whether chiropractic, acupuncture, or rehab is right for you, please do not hesitate to contact us at impactsportschiro.com/contact-us.