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Migraines vs. Tension Headaches: Understanding the Difference

Migraines vs. Tension Headaches: Understanding the Difference

You probably know the feeling all too well — pain behind your eyes, a pounding sensation in your head, and sensitivity to light and sound. These are all signs of a headache, with some pointing more toward migraines.

However, if you continue to experience headaches, it's crucial to know which one is affecting you to get the proper treatment. Migraines are usually severe and come with other side effects. In contrast, tension headaches come on due to stress or muscle tension.

Knowing what type of headache you're dealing with helps Dr. Jason Ablett provide the appropriate treatment at Pinnacle Health Chiropractic.

Dr. Ablett is an experienced chiropractor who offers several effective treatments for migraines and other chronic headaches.

Understanding migraines

A migraine is an intense headache that often lasts for several hours to several days at a time. They're more severe than other forms of headaches and are often accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms.


The pain of a migraine often begins behind the eyes, near the forehead, or on one side of the head. Migraines typically worsen, resulting in nausea, vomiting, and light and noise sensitivity.

Various types of migraines exist, including common, retinal, and hemiplegic migraines. Every kind of migraine affects people differently but is severe enough to interfere with everyday activities.

Some people even experience an aura or premonition before a migraine begins, including extreme fatigue and mood changes.

What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches are a completely different form of headache than a migraine. They are the most prevalent type of headache and don't usually cause symptoms other than pain.

People sometimes describe the pain of a tension headache as a tight, restrictive band around their heads. The pain can be on both sides of the head and cause tension in the neck and shoulders.

The pain of a tension headache is often mild to moderate, and we don't consider them a danger to your health. Over-the-counter medications, massage, and relaxation techniques often work to eliminate the pain of a tension headache.

Tension headaches have many causes, including stress at home or work. Other causes include TMJ disorder, eye strain, and insomnia.

Unlike migraines, tension headaches usually only last for a short time. Rarely do they occur for more than a few hours, except under extreme stress.

The main differences between the two

If you suffer from painful headaches, the key to determining if it's a migraine or tension headache lies within the symptoms. Each type of headache has distinctive signs, and the differences between migraines and tension headaches include:

Type of pain

Migraine pain is usually severe and limits your ability to do routine tasks. The pain can last for hours, days, or weeks and sometimes worsens with exercise or activity.

Tension headaches are often much less severe than migraines, causing only mild to moderate pain for a few hours. Although these headaches affect both sides of the head, they're typically easier to tolerate than migraines.

Accompanying symptoms

Tension headaches don't typically cause other symptoms. Pain or a squeezing sensation around the head and muscle tightness are the main symptoms of these headaches.

Migraines, however, often lead to symptoms like light or sound sensitivity, extreme fatigue, and nausea or vomiting that can last throughout the entire migraine.

Area of pain

Pain from a migraine usually only affects one side of your head and can begin behind your eyes. You may also have pain on or around the temples.

Tension headaches often cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and around the entire head. You may have soreness in the temples and tightness in the muscles behind the head and neck.

Cause of the headache

Tension headaches happen because of stress or tightness in the muscles around your head and neck. Migraines, on the other hand, may be caused by genetics or serotonin levels in the brain. We don't completely understand why some people suffer from migraines and others don't.

Treatment is also different for both migraines and tension headaches. However, Dr. Ablett effectively treats various headaches, including manual muscle manipulation, trigger point injections, and relaxation techniques.

Paired with medications and lifestyle changes, these treatments are highly effective for migraines and tension headaches.

If you're living with unbearable headaches, don't hesitate to call our office today to consult Dr. Ablett or schedule an appointment online using the booking tool.

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