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What type of headache do I have?

Did you know that there are hundreds of different headaches you can have? Most people just assume that if it’s a really bad headache it’s called a migraine – that’s actually not accurate. A migraine has a specific set of signs and symptoms that make it different from other headache types.


There are 3 major headache types that can be treated and helped with chiropractic care. I will lay them out for you here.


  1. Migraine Headaches


Migraine headaches are typically unilateral (meaning you only feel them on one side of your head) and pulsatile (meaning you feel pulsations in your head. With migraines you will often have sensitivity to light or sound and accompanying nausea and vomiting. They are typically aggravated by routine activity – many of us have various triggers that might bring a migraine on (e.g. lack of sleep, dehydration, wine, chocolate, weather). They also tend to last between 4-72 hours when they occur.


The good news about migraines is that the evidence shows there is a lot of positive benefit to being treated with chiropractic care. Spinal manipulations of the neck (1-2x/week for 8 weeks) has been proven to reduce frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. Massage therapy, avoiding triggers, exercise and relaxation techniques have also been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches.


  1. Tension-Type Headaches


Tension-type headaches are also known as ‘stress headaches’ or ‘tension headaches’. These ones tend to present with pain bilaterally (both sides of the head) with a pressing or tightening sensation. A common description is the feeling of a band squeezing around your head. One major difference between these and migraines is that they don’t tend to be aggravated by routine activities.


For this headache type, treatment typically consists of low load mobilizations to the head and neck as well as spinal manipulation, soft tissue work, acupuncture, exercise and stress relieving activities.


  1. Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches are defined as pain in the head or face that is originating from a structure in the neck. With these types of headaches, certain had movements, provocation of joints in the neck and trigger points in the muscles will recreate the headache symptoms.


Again, spinal manipulation is recommended for treatment in these types of headaches as well as joint mobilizations and deep neck flexor exercises.




As with everything, it is important that you get assessed by a licensed health care professional to determine where your pain is coming from to ensure proper management.


Come by Lawrence Park Health Clinic to see one of our Yonge and Eglinton chiropractors to help you with your headaches today!


Author: Dr. Allie Dennis, B.Sc. Kin (Hons.), D.C., Acu, CSEP-CPT, SFMA

Toronto Chiropractor | Acupuncture Provider | Personal Trainer | SFMA Practitioner




Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Headache Disorders in Adults


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