Headaches are never fun.
They can range from mildly inconvenient, making it distracting to try to get work done, to debilitating and painful requiring you to take the day off, and avoid all stimuli.
Knowing the different types of headaches can help you determine if it’s just something you can take a painkiller for and move on with your day, or if it’s possibly a sign of something more serious.
Being aware of the causes of your headaches may help you to avoid triggers, and help prevent them from happening in the future.
As a physical therapist in Washington DC, I see this a lot from patients who come to see us.
So, keep reading as we explore 10 different types of headaches, and what their causes are.
What Is A Headache?
Most people will experience headaches at some point in time.
Generally speaking, a headache is pain in “any region of the head.”
However they can vary greatly in terms of length, source, and degree of pain depending on the type of headache you’re experiencing.
Headaches can be chronic, meaning they are consistent and long-lasting, or episodic which means they only occur every now and then.
If a headache is accompanied by symptoms such as a stiff neck, rash, vomiting, or disorientation than be sure to also seek medical help.
What Are The Different Types Of Headaches?
You’ve likely heard people refer to different types of headaches, but it might not be quite as clear what they all mean, or how to identify them.
In this section, we’ll look at the types of headaches and their causes.
Keep reading to learn more.
1. Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache experienced in teenagers and adults.
Generally, they involve a dull, aching mild pain and possibly sensitivity around the forehead, neck, and scalp.
What Causes A Tension Headache?
Tension headaches are often due to stress, and usually can be resolved with over-the-counter pain medications.
Persistent tension headaches which become chronic may need more than just a painkiller to address them – often you will need to determine and address the underlying cause.
Your physical therapist can help by stretching the muscles in the back of your neck to help relieve pain.
We’ll also work with you to improve your posture – another common cause of tension headaches.
2. Sinus Headaches
Sinus headaches occur when there is inflammation in the sinus cavities, and are characterized by pain on the forehead, cheekbones, and bridge of the nose.
They’re usually accompanied by other sinus symptoms such as swelling of the face, fever, and runny nose.
A sinus headache is usually a sign of sinus infection.
What Causes A Sinus Headache?
As mentioned, a sinus headache is usually the result of a sinus infection, or because of an allergic reaction.
The pressure is due to a build-up of mucus in the sinus cavity, and are treated by thinning out this build-up.
If you have a sinus infection your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help clear the infection.
3. Hypertension Headaches
Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure, and can result in headaches.
These types of headaches can be felt on both sides of the head, and will worsen with physical activity.
They feel like they are pulsing, and may also be accompanied by nosebleeds, chest pain, vision issues, numbness, and tingling.
What Causes Hypertension Headaches?
Hypertension headaches are a sign your blood pressure has reached a dangerously high level.
If you believe you are experiencing one of these types of headaches, it’s important to note they can be very serious and you should seek medical attention immediately.
4. Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are the most severe headaches you can experience.
They bring with them intense, piercing, and burning pain, on one side of the face, around and behind one eye.
Swelling, flushing, and sweating may also occur on the affected side.
Another symptom is nasal congestion and the eye on the side of the headache tearing up.
The name “cluster” headaches is because they tend to happen in groups, with headaches occurring a few times per day, for a period of anywhere from two weeks to three months.
What Causes A Cluster Headache?
The causes of cluster headaches aren’t known, however, some triggers may include:
- Seasonal changes
5. Exertion Headaches
Exertion headaches feel like a throbbing sensation on both sides of the head.
Generally they don’t last very long, and pass within anywhere from a few moments to a couple of hours.
These types of headaches can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
What Causes Exertion Headaches?
As the name suggests, exertion headaches occur after periods of physical activity.
This could include cardio, such as running, weight lifting, or even sexual activity.
They are thought to be due to increased blood flow to the skull.
6. Hormonal Headaches
Roughly 60% of people who menstruate will experience migraines associated with their cycles.
Another name for these are hormonal migraines, and they are similar to regular migraines in that they typically start on one side of the head.
These headaches may also include:
- Sensitivity to light
- Low appetite
- Decreased coordinator
- Food cravings, especially for salty snacks, chocolate, or alcohol
What Causes Hormonal Headaches?
Changes in hormone levels – specifically estrogen – can lead to hormonal headaches.
Hormonal birth control, menstruation, and pregnancy are all factors which can affect hormone levels.
Headaches specifically linked to the menstrual cycle are also called menstrual migraines.
7. Migraine Headaches
Probably one of the most well-known types of headaches, migraines are characterized by throbbing, pounding pain.
This is also usually accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Tension in the neck
- Vomiting and nausea
- Decreased appetite
- Stomach pain
What Causes A Migraine Headache?
Susceptibility to migraines is often genetic, and women are three times more likely to experience them.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is another risk factor.
Common migraine triggers include environmental factors such as:
- Skipping meals
- Certain foods
- Hormone fluctuations
- Not getting enough sleep
- Being dehydrated
- Exposure to certain chemicals
Physical therapy can help to reduce the pain of a migraine headache, as well as to reduce the tension felt in your neck you might feel.
8. Post-Traumatic Headaches
Post-traumatic headaches are those which begin to occur after a person experiences a head injury.
The can last six-to-twelve months after an injury happens, and may become chronic.
In terms of symptoms, they feel similar to migraine or tension headaches.
What Causes Post-Traumatic Headaches?
As mentioned, these headaches are the result of sustaining a head injury.
If they last longer than 48 hours, or you experience them for more than 15 days over a one-month period than you should see your doctor for treatment beyond typical over-the-counter pain medication.
9. Rebound Headaches
These are dull headaches similar to tension headache, and they occur in individuals who rely too much on over-the-counter pain relievers.
They tend to occur in individuals who use pain medication (either over-the-counter or prescription) more than two or three times per week.
What Causes Rebound Headaches
Another name for rebound headaches are medication overuse headaches.
They occur when you over-use pain medications, and then experience more pain as it wears off, requiring further use of pain medications.
In these cases, things will often get worse before they get better, as the main treatment is to slowly wean off pain medication, which will result in pain returning before it goes away completely.
10. Caffeine Headaches
Caffeine headaches generally consist of moderate to severe pain which gets worse with physical activity.
The can be influenced not only by how much caffeine you consume, but also genetic factors, and how your body metabolizes caffeine.
What Causes Caffeine Headaches?
There are two sides to caffeine headaches.
They can be caused by having too much caffeine in your system, but also by quitting “cold turkey”.
Cutting back or quitting caffeine won’t always result in headaches, but when it does it’s because of changes in brain chemistry which come with withdrawal.
What’s Causing Your Headaches?
Are you experiencing headaches, and aren’t sure what their cause is?
Maybe you’ve tried limiting exposure to potential triggers, and getting more sleep, but are still in pain and can’t figure out what.
If the cause of your headaches is eluding you, a physical therapist can help you to determine the reasons for your pain, and offer solutions to help with pain management.
Contact Capitol Physical Therapy today for a consultation or appointment.
1331 H St NW #200,
Washington, DC 20005
9560 Pennsylvania Ave. # 202,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
Capitol Physical Therapy offers orthopedic and other pain related solutions, with our versitile team of physical therapists in Washington, DC