Migraines and tension headaches are incredibly common. In fact, millions of people experience them each year! They are incredibly painful and impact a person’s ability to work, socialize, and enjoy their daily life. These headaches can become chronic the longer they are left untreated, so it is important to find relief methods that work for your unique pattern of symptoms and triggers. Take action by learning about the differences, similarities, and various relief methods for migraines and tension headaches.

Are Migraines and Tension Headaches The Same Thing?

While many refer to their strong headaches as migraine, there are differences between tension headaches, as strong as they maybe, and Migraine headaches.

  • Migraines

Symptoms associated with Migraines are:

  1. Throbbing pain, usually felt on one side of the head, is a distinctive symptom of migraine headaches. Migraines are caused by brain changes and how it processes pain signals. In times of stress or tension, the body is signaled to release chemicals such as cortisol and noradrenaline that influence blood vessel activity. The blood vessels in the brain then constrict and dilate repetitively, which leads to the throbbing pain sensation.
  2. Nausea
  3. Vomiting
  4. Sensitivity to light and sound
  5. Visual disturbance which are experience by some people. They include flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots, known as aura.

Migraines can be triggered by physical or emotional stress, certain foods or drinks, changes in sleep patterns, and hormonal changes. It is believed that while genetics and environmental factors play a role in their development, the exact cause of migraines is still unknown. They can last from several hours to several days, and impact the normal life while present!

  • Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are caused by built-up muscle tension in the head, neck, and shoulders. This tension can lead to a dull, aching sensation, much like a tight band around the forehead or the back of the head and neck.

Tension headaches can also last a few hours to several days, but they typically go away on their own in that time. Some people can experience sensitivity to light or sound, much like a migraine. The pain is usually mild to moderate in intensity and can be triggered by stress, poor posture, and eye strain.

Pain Location Comparison of Migraines And Tension Headaches

How Are Tension Headache and Migraine Similar?

Despite the differences between the two types of headaches, there are similarities between Tension and Migraine headaches. For instance

  • They both can be triggered by stress, lack of sleep, certain foods, eye strain, and environmental factors.
  • Both can be treated with over-the-counter medications.
  • The location of the pain in the head overlaps.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Nausea.

How Do I Relieve My Migraines or Tension Headaches?

When it comes to the treatment of the headaches, there are medications and then the holistic, non-medicine approach to include:

  • Chiropractic care: Manual manipulation of the spine improves alignment, reduces muscle and joint tension, and improves circulation.
  • Massage therapy: This technique identifies areas of tension or weakness, and reduces tension and stress in the muscles. Massage therapy can also improve circulation and promote relaxation.
  • Lifestyle changes: Regularly practice relaxation techniques and get enough sleep. Avoid triggers such as certain foods, medications, chemicals, or environmental factors. Make changes to your diet, such as reducing your intake of caffeine and alcohol. These changes can help reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.
  • Acupuncture: A traditional Chinese medicine technique. This involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes.
  • Herbal remedies: Several herbs share properties that influence frequency, reduce inflammation, and prevent constriction. One example includes feverfew, a plant shown to prevent constriction of blood vessels in the brain. Butterbur is another herb that can reduce the severity of migraines.
    **Research and speak with your primary care physician before trying herbal remedies.**
  • Mind-body practices: Meditation, yoga, and tai chi can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Meditation involves focusing the mind on a particular object or sound to achieve peace and mental clarity. Yoga and tai chi promote balance and harmony in the body. They are physical practices that combine movement, breath, and meditation.
  • Ayurvedic Medicine: A traditional system of medicine from India. It focuses on balancing the body, mind, and spirit to promote optimal health. Ayurvedic treatments may include herbal remedies, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications.

Fast DIY Treatment for Headaches

While the following methods may work for some people, they do not last long and any severe and chronic headache should be looked into to make sure it is not something more serious!

  1. Cold compress: Some people enjoy applying a bag of frozen peas or a cold gel pack, to the forehead or neck can help to reduce inflammation.
  2. Heat therapy: Warm compress, shower, or bath can help relax tense muscles and ease tension headaches.
  3. Caffeine: Small amount of caffeine, coffee or tea
  4. Pressure point massage: Applying slight pressure the temples, the base of the skull, or the bridge of the nose, can be helpful.

Your ergonomics, lifestyle and food choices do make a difference and should not be overlooked. For a list of ergonomic modifications, contact us.

Lex Alvarado

This blog was contributed by Lex Alvarado:

Lex Alvarado has over 14 years of experience working with patients, collaborating care to improve pain and posture.She is certified in Active Release Technique (ART) and neuromuscular massage (CNMT) and is a Board certified massage therapist (CAMTC). She is currently on the rehab. team at Irvine Spine and Wellness Center. When you are ready, contact us online or reach the team at 949-552-5535