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  • Writer's pictureRashelle Bytendorp

Types of Headaches and How to Prevent Them

Headaches are an unfortunate part of life for many people. They know no race or gender, and no matter who you are or how healthy you are, you’re at risk of having them. There are some people who experience headaches quite frequently, and others who very rarely have one. If you’re getting headaches on a regular basis, it’s worth your time to find out why and what you can do about it.

Did you know there are different types of headaches, and different causes and treatments for each? Let’s take a look, so you can start to determine what’s the best plan of care for you.

Tension headaches

This type is very common and it’s likely that you’ve experienced this at one point or another. Tension headaches are often described as a dull pain throughout the head, generally located at the forehead, behind the eyes, at the base of the neck, and even in the jaws and cheeks. They usually last from 30 minutes to several hours and shouldn’t affect daily life too much, although you may need to make some adjustments. Tension headaches are often attributed to a decrease in blood flow to the head due to increased muscular tension and restriction through the neck, head, face, and jaw; usually triggered by stress, anxiety, dehydration, lack of movement, poor sleep, abnormal posture, and eye strain. Some gentle to moderate pressure massage along with stretching and mobilizations will often ease the tension and give you relief. If you can’t get in for a massage with us right then, you can massage the muscles of your neck, shoulders, and face yourself, or have a friend or family member help. Light exercise and stretching can help improve blood flow to the head and neck, and over the counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories can provide relief for some. If you find that you’re experiencing tension headaches often, regular massage sessions can help to decrease the frequency.


Many claim to experience frequent migraines, but these are often confused with severe tension headaches. The differentiating factor is the presence or lack of neurological symptoms. While tension headaches, especially when severe, can be debilitating and very painful, they come without the neurological symptoms associated with a migraine. A migraine not only causes severe pain in the head, neck, and face, but is often accompanied by an abnormal sensitivity to light, sound, and smell, along with nausea and vomiting. About a third of migraine sufferers experience an aura (visual and sensory disturbance) prior to an incident which can last anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes. Auras include seeing zig-zag lines, flickering lights, spots, or partial loss of vision. Migraines can last a few hours to a few days and can be quite debilitating. Triggers of a migraine can span from stress, dehydration, sleep disruption, hormone imbalances, and even certain foods. Some find relief with over the counter medications, while others may require prescription level drugs. For many, a dark, quiet room and a few hours of sleep is often the only way to find relief. If you’re having frequent migraines, a visit with your doctor may be necessary. While regular massages have been shown to decrease the frequency of migraines, a massage to the head and neck is not advised while you’re in the midst of one. Instead, if you want to get a massage while you have an active migraine, the massage will be focused on your legs, feet, arms, and hands to counter the abnormal blood flow causing the migraine.

Cluster Headaches

This type is defined as severe, recurrent headaches that are experienced as an intense burning or piercing pain on one side of the head and behind or around one eye. Other symptoms associated with cluster headaches are eyes watering, swollen eyelids, runny nose, and restlessness or agitation. There is generally no warning and it may feel like the headache attacks out of nowhere, peaks within 10-15 minutes, and then is gone within 2-3 hours. Unlike several other types of headaches, cluster headaches are the only one that is far more prevalent in men than in women. Most of the time these attacks occur quickly and in clusters, anywhere from 3-8 times a day over a period of several weeks. What causes cluster headaches is unclear, however they seem to be triggered by smoking, alcohol consumption, strong smells, and may be linked to a genetic predisposition or previous head trauma. Over the counter and prescription medications are often the go-to treatment, but regular massage may also help prevent the frequency of these attacks.

Exertional Headaches

These headaches are triggered by sudden, strenuous, physical exercise like running, jumping, weightlifting, and even sudden severe bouts of coughing or sneezing. These are generally over as quickly as they come on, however they can last for several hours or even a few days at times. Exertional headaches are felt as a throbbing pain through the head and tend to be present in those with a family history of migraines. These headaches are usually extinguished with rest, over the counter medications, and massage. However, taking plenty of time to warm up prior to exercise can help to prevent them.

Sinus Headaches

This type of headache is common and occurs due to inflammation of the sinus cavities of the head. The pain is often felt in the forehead, around and behind the eyes, and along the cheeks. Because of the location of the pain, many people may confuse tension and sinus headaches, but they are quite different. Sinus headaches specifically will often be accompanied by congestion or a runny nose, along with tenderness over the sinus cavities, just above and below the eyes. Over the counter anti-inflammatories are a common treatment, as are massage therapy and steam treatments. If a sinus headache persists, especially with congestion and significant tenderness, you may need to see your doctor to rule out an infection or other condition.

Cervicogenic Headaches

This term encompasses any headache caused by an abnormality within the neck. Oftentimes this is due to some ligament laxity or misalignment of the cervical (neck) vertebrae causing pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that travel to the head. These are often felt along one side of the head and follow a pretty distinct pattern from the base of the skull, wrapping over the top of the head, and ending just above or behind the eye. These seem to be more common in those who have a history of whiplash or other neck injuries and are often triggered by abnormal posture. Massage and retraction exercises can allow the proper movement of the vertebrae, reducing the pressure on those nerves and blood vessels, and alleviating the pain.

Whether you deal with one of these types of headaches on a regular basis or find yourself needing relief in the midst of them, we’re here to bring you comfort and relief.

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