Headaches and Migraines: What is the Difference?

Have you noticed that many people use the terms headache and migraine as if they are the same thing?

Headaches and migraines are actually two different conditions and it is important to understand the difference so you can get the correct treatment.

What is a headache

Headaches are defined as pain arising from the head or neck. Pain originates from structures or tissues surrounding the brain because the brain itself doesn’t have nerves that give rise to the sensation of pain. There are many different types of headaches caused by different factors. Depending on the type, headaches can be severe and debilitating, but most are mild and quickly resolve. TYPES OF HEADACHES

Headaches are very common as most people will experience headaches in their lifetime.

What about Migraines

Migraines are more than just a headache. They can be defined as a neurological disease that involves changes in nerve pathways and chemicals in the brain. Changes in brain activity affect blood in the brain and surrounding tissues causing a range of symptoms including nausea, increased sensitivity to light, sound, and smell, dizziness, extreme fatigue, associated neck pain and headaches. Vestibular migraines are becoming a more commonly diagnosed cause of severe vertigo attacks.

Headaches are a symptom of migraines. Migraines are not as common as headaches affecting only about 15% of the population, but can be much more debilitating.

The exact cause of migraines is unknown but there are known triggers that contribute to migraines. These can be hormonal shifts, allergies, genetics, neck pain and environmental factors such as foods, smells, and stress. There is not a cure for migraines but treatment typically includes medication and avoiding known triggers.

Where does Neck pain and Physiotherapy fit in

Neck pain is commonly associated with Migraines but much is still unknown about the link. Is it a symptom of the migraine or is it a trigger factor? Some patients with migraine can have neck problems completely independent of that condition, like arthritis or a pinched nerve.

Physiotherapy cannot directly treat migraines, but can treat tension headaches, headaches from the neck and joint and muscle dysfunction that may act as one of the triggers for migraine attacks.

Cervicogenic headaches can occur due to tightness or postural abnormalities associated with dysfunction of predominantly the upper two vertebrae of the spine, though they may also be influenced by the lower segments.

Tension headaches can be caused by stress or fatigue, but may also be caused by musculoskeletal dysfunction. Irritation or injuries to joints and structures of the head, neck, shoulders, and upper back can cause muscles to tighten leading to tension headaches.

Mild and infrequent tension headaches can be treated with over the counter medications and proper rest, however people with more severe, recurrent and chronic tension headaches may need the help of a Physiotherapist.

We have many treatments that can help reduce the muscle tension around the head such as dry needling, joint and soft tissue mobilizations. We also work on finding and treating musculoskeletal dysfunctions in the body that are the underlying cause of why your muscles are tightening. Along with EDUCATION AND ADVICE we can help get them under control

Key Points:

  • Migraines and headaches are not the same thing and are treated differently.
  • Dysfunction of the neck joints of any type could result in pain that moves up into the head, triggering a migraine in individuals who are prone to them.
  • Tension and Cervical headaches are very common.
  • Tension headaches are caused by abnormal tightness of muscles surrounding the head.
  • Physiotherapy is an effective treatment for tension and cervical headaches and underlying causes.
  • Physiotherapy for migraine sufferers will involve a detailed examination leading to a tailored treatment plan. The primary aim regarding the musculoskeletal dysfunctions is to reduce pain and sensitization. The aim regarding postural control and vertigo is to improve function and reduce vestibular symptoms, and can include exercises and vestibular rehabilitation.

If you believe you are suffering from tension and or neck headaches, see one of our Physios as we can not only get you feeling better, but also treat the underlying cause and hopefully prevent you from having headaches in the future.

With regards to Migraines physiotherapy is aimed at the management of underlying neck dysfunction and vestibular rehabilitation if indicated and if that can help with the reduction of frequency and severity of your symptoms.

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