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Understanding the Difference Between the Two Major Types of Headaches

Although there are more than 150 different types of headaches, migraine and tension headaches top the list as the most common. And because effective treatment can vary according to type, it’s important to understand which kind of headache you’re experiencing.

Pamela V. Ford, DC, and our team at Serenity Chiropractic & Family Wellness Center in Carrollton, Texas, can help with that. Dr. Ford is a headache specialist who uses her chiropractic skills to diagnose, treat, and prevent chronic headaches.

Here, Dr. Ford shares the similarities and differences between migraine and tension headaches.

Headache basics

Tension headaches are the most common headache type by far and may occur once a month, once a week, or daily. Causes of tension-type headaches include:

Migraine, on the other hand, is a complex neurological disorder that can cause varying levels of pain and other symptoms that may last for hours to days.

These debilitating headaches may be triggered by:

Unfortunately, you can experience a tension headache and a migraine at the same time, and symptoms can overlap, sometimes making it challenging to identify the underlying cause and type.

Headache symptoms by type

Characteristics and symptoms of migraine versus tension-type headaches include:


Tension headaches typically present as a steady, dull ache on both sides of the head. The pain is often described as a squeezing pressure or tightness involving the head, neck, and shoulders.

Migraines are characterized by a dull ache that can build into an intense, throbbing pain that can increase in intensity without treatment. The pain usually occurs on one side of the head, sometimes both, and can shift to the front of the head or occur behind the eyes, in the sinus area, or the jaw.

Duration and frequency

Tension headaches are often episodic and can last from 30 minutes to several days. They may occur occasionally or frequently, depending on a person’s triggers.

Migraines tend to last longer, ranging from a few hours to several days. They’re usually not as frequent as tension headaches but can be more debilitating when they occur.

Associated symptoms

Tension headaches are primarily characterized by squeezing pain, but you may also experience sensitivity to light or noise. These headaches can also cause significant and often painful muscle tightness in the neck and shoulders.

Migraines are associated with a broader range of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances (auras), and heightened sensitivity to light and sound.

Both headache types, depending on their frequency and duration, can lead to varying levels of anxiety and depression that are common with chronic pain conditions.

Chiropractic care for chronic headaches

Chiropractic care focuses on the relationship between the spine and the nervous system. Misalignments in the spine, known as subluxations, can contribute to various health issues, including headaches.

Dr. Ford personalizes your treatment strategy to address issues that may trigger your headaches. Your plan may include:

Spinal adjustments

This process, also known as spinal manipulation, involves gentle, controlled movements to realign the vertebrae and relieve pressure on nerves, muscles, and other structures.

Relieving neck and shoulder muscle tension

Migraine and tension headaches may result from or worsen tightness in the neck and shoulder muscles. Dr. Ford may employ massage, stretching, and exercises to relieve muscle tension, reducing the frequency and severity of headaches.

Posture correction

Poor posture can contribute to both migraines and tension headaches. Dr. Ford addresses posture-related issues through adjustments and exercises to improve posture. This holistic approach aims to address the root causes of headaches.

Lifestyle and nutrition guidance

As part of a comprehensive approach to headache prevention, Dr. Ford works with you to identify and adjust lifestyle habits that may worsen headache frequency and severity. This may include stress management, dietary changes, and ergonomic adjustments in the workplace.

Schedule a visit with Dr. Ford at Serenity Chiropractic & Family Wellness Center today by calling the office or requesting an appointment online.

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