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  • Writer's pictureNashville PT

Headache or Migraine?

Headaches are a common medical condition that affects many people at some point in their lives. They are characterized by pain or discomfort in the head or neck region, and can range in severity from mild to severe. There are many different types of headaches, each with their own unique causes and symptoms.


A migraine is a type of headache that is typically characterized by a moderate to severe pulsating or throbbing pain on one side of the head. Migraines can last from a few hours to several days and are often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraines are thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that affect the function of the brain and the blood vessels in the head. Triggers for migraines can vary between individuals, but common triggers include stress, hormonal changes, certain foods or drinks, changes in sleep patterns, and sensory stimuli such as bright lights or strong smells.

Treatment for migraines typically involves a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and self-care techniques. Over-the-counter pain medication, prescription medication, or preventive medication may be used to manage the pain and other symptoms. Lifestyle changes such as regular sleep patterns, stress reduction techniques, and avoiding triggers can also help prevent migraines. Self-care techniques such as rest, relaxation, and avoiding excessive physical activity may also be helpful.


Some common types of headaches include tension headaches, which are often caused by stress or tension in the neck and shoulders, and migraines, which are often characterized by intense, throbbing pain on one side of the head, along with other symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting. Other types of headaches include cluster headaches, sinus headaches, cervicogenic headaches, and rebound headaches, which can occur as a result of overuse of pain medications.

Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches are headaches that arise from problems in the cervical spine or neck. The pain is usually localized to one side of the head, often beginning at the base of the skull and radiating to the front of the head. These headaches can be triggered by neck movements or prolonged neck postures and may be accompanied by neck pain and stiffness.

Cervicogenic headaches are believed to be caused by irritation or damage to the upper cervical spinal nerves or joints. Common causes include cervical disc degeneration, arthritis, poor posture, and neck injuries such as whiplash. Treatment for cervicogenic headaches often involves physical therapy to address the underlying neck problem, including exercises to strengthen the neck muscles, improve posture, and increase mobility in the cervical spine.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and are often described as a dull, steady ache that feels like a tight band around the head. The pain is usually bilateral and typically starts at the base of the skull or forehead and may spread to the neck, shoulders, or back. Tension headaches are not usually associated with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound.

Tension headaches are thought to be caused by muscle tension in the head and neck, often due to stress, poor posture, or prolonged use of digital devices. Treatment for tension headaches may involve lifestyle changes such as stress reduction techniques, stretching and relaxation exercises, and ergonomics adjustments. Over-the-counter pain medication or prescription medication may also be used in some cases to manage the pain.

Cervicogenic headache or migraine?

Cervicogenic headaches and migraines are two different types of headaches, with distinct causes and symptoms but sometimes the presentation of them can seem very similar.

Cervicogenic headaches are caused by problems in the neck, such as an injury, arthritis, or poor posture. The pain typically originates in the neck and radiates to the head, often on one side. The pain may be described as a constant, dull ache and may be accompanied by neck pain and stiffness.

Migraines, on the other hand, are neurological in nature and involve changes in the brain and blood vessels. The pain of a migraine is typically characterized as a throbbing or pulsating sensation that is often unilateral (on one side) and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual disturbances.

Causes of Headaches

The causes of headaches can vary widely, and may include factors such as stress, fatigue, dehydration, poor posture, eyestrain, and certain medical conditions such as high blood pressure, infections, or head injuries. It's important to note that headaches can have many different causes, and a healthcare professional can help diagnose and treat the specific type of headache a person may be experiencing. Treatment for headaches depends on the underlying cause and severity of the symptoms, and may include medications, lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, or other forms of therapy such as acupuncture or physical therapy.

In some cases, headaches may be a symptom of a more serious medical condition, and it is important to seek medical attention if headaches are severe, occur frequently, or are accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, confusion, or difficulty speaking.

Can PT be used to treat headaches or migraines?

Yes, physical therapy can help with different types of headaches, including tension headaches, cervicogenic headaches, and migraines. Physical therapy interventions for headaches may include manual therapy techniques, dry needling, exercise prescription, education on posture and ergonomic and relaxation techniques. Additionally, physical therapy can help identify any trigger points in the body that may contribute to headaches or migraines and develop a personalized treatment plan to manage those triggers. The specific treatment approach will depend on the underlying cause of the headaches and the individual needs of the patient.

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