2 Common Headache Types

Posted on in Headaches by Dr. Graham Norton


Most Canadians will suffer from headaches in their lifetime. The reason for the headache can differ from one individual to another.

Headache triggers can vary from environment, stress, dehydration, or referred pain from muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves.

If you are like most people suffering from headaches, then you likely resort to taking some type of pain medication to ease the headache and return to your daily activities. Hours, days, weeks, or months later the same headache returns. It can be frustrating. For others, pain medications don’t even work and headaches have just become a new “normal.”

Headaches can be debilitating and affect your ability to work, parent, or flat out have the energy and ability to enjoy your life. This is something we care deeply about because we know we can help. AND the more YOU know and understand, the more you can do to help yourself.

Below is some basic information about two of the more common types of headaches that we see. This may help you (or someone you know) determine the type of headache you experience and what action steps you can take:

Tension Headache

This is the most common type of primary headache. The pain of this type of headache is usually felt on both sides of the head and is typically described as dull, aching, pressing or tightening in the front sides, and back of the head. It may also be associated with neck symptoms.

Tension headaches can range in intensity from mild to severe. Similar to migraines, tension headaches can be accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. They are often triggered or aggravated by stress but can also stem from poor nutrition, poor posture, poor sleep, TMJ dysfunction, alcohol use, anxiety, eyestrain, hormonal fluctuations and weather changes.The length of time this type of headache lasts can vary from hours to days.

Cervicogenic Headache

This type of headache originates in the neck or the back of the head. The nerve roots exiting the spine, the discs in between the vertebrae, the joints between the vertebrae, and any of the nerves travelling through this area may be involved in cervicogenic headaches.

The pain is more often felt on one side and spreads to the eye area and front or side of the head. The pain may be triggered or made worse by movement of the neck, certain neck positions, or by putting pressure on certain parts of the neck or base of the head.

Usually, cervicogenic headaches will come and go at the start but can develop into an almost continuous pain.

Are either of these sounding like what you are experiencing?

These are some things we often see that can contribute to triggering or aggravating these types of headaches:

– constantly looking down at a cell phone
– working at a computer all day
– driving for hours without rest
– playing video games for hours
– clenching your jaw at night or during the day
– sleeping on your stomach
– repetitive overhead motions
– dehydration
– stress (work, finances, kids, relationships etc). 

Here are a few things you can do to help manage these types of headaches:

– take breaks when on social media or at work (look up every 5 minutes, stand up and move your body around every 20-30 minutes)
– manage your stress with meditation (try out one of these apps: Calm or Headspace).
– use a lacrosse ball to perform self-myofascial release (aka massage) on the neck, upper back, and shoulder muscles… click the download button below to watch us demonstrate how to do this simple and effective exercise.
– perform neck range of motion exercises regularly as recommended by your chiropractor

In our next article we will tackle one of the most severe types of headaches: Migraines!

Hi! I'm Dr. Graham and I am passionate about delivering the most comprehensive and results driven spine care available. I love working with people who want to make a real and lasting difference in their health. I love travelling locally, outdoor activities like road biking and skate skiing, good coffee, and my family (Dr. Marie, and our two wonderful daughters Zoey & Eloise).