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Migraines/ Headache

Understanding Headaches and Migraines

What is the difference between a headache and a migraine? Most of the time we tend to use a migraine to describe a particularly painful headache, and while they do share a number of characteristics, they can present themselves in quite different ways. Both can vary between mild/moderate/severe pain and affect either one side or the whole of the head. Sometimes they may pass quickly and other times they can last for days.

The key difference is that tension headaches tend to present just a tight sharp pain, while migraines project more constant throbbing qualities and include other symptoms that are more ‘flu-like’. It is common for migraines to be accompanied by light sensitivity, nausea, and a lack of energy. Exertion – even very light exercise such as climbing stairs – can make migraines suddenly become far worse, while headaches tend to stay quite constant and stable.

Before we look further into this topic it is worth mentioning that anyone who has suddenly developed extreme head pain ought to consider seeing a medical doctor or physiotherapist very quickly, especially if it is accompanied by lightheadedness, confusion, and dizziness.

What causes a Migraine and Headaches?

It may be surprising to learn but there is still not an explanation for what precisely causes tension style headaches. While it has long been thought that muscular tension played a part (especially around the neck) there must be some kind of chemical reaction that we cannot yet identify. As we shall see later, massage therapy can help with reducing the severity and frequency of headaches but there is still no scientific, permanent solution besides painkillers, which we do not advise.


Fortunately, we are much more informed when it comes to migraines. These seem to be caused by changes in the blood flow through the skull leading to swollen veins that apply pressure to the nerves. It is worsened by multiple chemical reactions that accentuate the throbbing pain which characterizes migraines.

While headaches may just appear for no clear reason there are a number of common factors believed to stimulate migraine attacks. These vary from food (alcohol, dairy products, citrus fruits), weather/atmospheric pressure changes, poor sleep, gluten intolerance, hormonal changes, and even certain smells. Complementary physical therapies will look to identify the triggers which seems to start a migraine attack.