Headache or Migraine? Deciphering the Puzzle Behind Cranial Pain

What sets apart a migraine from a regular headache? While many people have experienced headaches at some point, not everyone is familiar with migraines. It’s common for individuals to mistakenly refer to their headache as a migraine when they are experiencing a regular headache.

So, what is a headache?

A headache is simply pain felt in any part of the head, varying in location, duration, nature, triggers, and underlying causes. These factors help determine the specific type of headache. There are over 200 recognised different headaches, which are split into two main categories:

  1. Primary headaches occur when the headache itself is the primary source of pain, not as a symptom of an underlying condition. While primary headaches can be debilitating, they are typically not dangerous. Examples include cluster headaches, migraines (with or without aura), and tension-type headaches.
  2. Secondary headaches are symptoms of an underlying condition that triggers pain-sensitive nerves in the head. Various conditions can lead to secondary headaches, such as cervicogenic headaches (caused by neck dysfunction), sinus congestion, or eye strains.

Now, let’s explore migraines.

A migraine is a complex neurological condition classified as a primary headache. However, it’s important to note that the headache is just one of several symptoms experienced during a migraine, and its severity can vary.

Migraines often have common triggers but no specific cause. Certain factors increase the risk of developing migraines, including gender (female), a family history of migraines, and mood disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, or sleep disorders.

You may be thinking, why does it matter if I have a headache or migraine…?

Given that there are so many headaches, it is understandable that you might be confused! Identifying the type of headache you are experiencing is essential, as it can change the treatment approach significantly. By identifying the type of headache you are experiencing, we can ensure that your treatment plan is safe, appropriate, and effective.

There are a multitude of symptoms (in addition to your medical and family history) that needs to be considered. The table below breaks down some differences between common headaches, which your allied health practitioner is trained to identify.

Types of Common Headaches

Tension-typeSlow progression
Dull ache and a tight band-like feeling across the forehead
Pain may also be felt in the back of the head and neck
Duration: 15 mins-7 days
MigraineThrobbing-type debilitating pain
One-sided pain
Nausea and/or vomiting Light and/or sound sensitivity
Duration: 4-72hrs
ClusterSudden severe headache that occurs in a series or ‘cluster’
Stabbing pain often behind the eye
Red, watery eyes
CervicogenicNeck-originating pain that radiates from the neck’s bony or soft tissue structures
Aggravated by head movement, and can also be felt in shoulders or arm
Noticeably reduced range of motion (ROM) in the neck

If you or anyone you know suffers from headaches and would like more information, please speak to your Osteopath, Physiotherapist, local GP or allied health professional.

Dr. Daniel Raab
B.Sc.(Cli.Sc.), M.H.Sc.(Osteo)


Subscribe to our Boronia newsletter

Get the latest news, tips and recipes

Subscribe to our Elwood newsletter

Get the latest news, tips and recipes