A migraine is just a bad headache, isn’t it?

Headache VS. Migraine
– Conditions Explained –

A very common misconception is that a migraine is just a bad headache.  Most of the time; if you’ve had a migraine – you definitely know you’ve had one!

You can have mild headaches, and also get migraines;

You can get bad headaches and also get migraines;

You can get migraines without suffering a headache before;

& you can get headaches without escalating to a migraine.

They are different conditions after all.

While we’re still talking about an aching head; they have different origins.

80% of the time, headaches have muscular origins. We call these tension headaches or muscular contraction headaches. This is when the muscles (one or many) in the neck, thorax, jaw or head have trigger points (‘knots’) or a spasm present.  The other 20% of headaches are made up from direct trauma, concussion, acute infection, dehydration, eyestrain, noise, excessive eating, drinking alcohol or smoking, inadequate ventilation, Meningitis, fever, hypertension (vascular), depression, diseases of the eye/ear/nose/throat/teeth, arthritis, Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction or injury; among others.

Symptoms of a tension headache:

  • Pain usually on both sides of the head or base of skull (bilateral)
  • Constant – could be dull, grabbing or vice-like
  • Pain is often in the referred pain pattern (see image)
  • Often there is also neck & shoulder pain
  • Sufferers can usually function.

headaches vs migraine revolution health centre colac camperdown remedial massage

Other factors:

  • Figures suggest that up to 63% of men, and 86% of women experience tension headaches
  • Often there is a family history (40-50%)
  • Chronic daily headaches tend be an accompany to shoulder, neck & upper back pain
  • Frequency is variable
  • Tension headaches are usually present upon waking up, or late in the afternoon
  • Aggravating factors include stress, fatigue, cold, hypoglycaemia, too much ‘screen time’ and poor posture.
  • Loss of appetite can result from having a headache, and if certain neck muscles are affected; there may be nausea, vertigo, and tinnitus (ringing in ears) present.

Treating tension headaches is easy! Our remedial massage therapists are trained to treat headaches in their sleep. Some (headaches) are obviously worse than others – or have been untreated for longer, which means teamwork between the therapist and client will need to take place. A mixture of massage & chiropractic or osteopathic treatment can help as well.

Migraine symptoms differ from person to person, or even in a single individual or during a single episode. So while we can predict where a headache will be from what muscles are sore, there is no short & fast rule for migraines.

A migraine is a poorly understood condition. The physiology of it seems straight forward, but then individual experiences differ so much; it’s hard to assume the physiology is the same for everyone.

  • A theory to explain the physiology of migraines; is that an unknown mechanism triggers vasoconstriction (contraction of blood vessels) of the inter-cranial arteries (the arteries inside your skull) which brings about a migraine aura or other visual disturbance. After the onset of this headache, vasodilation (dilation of blood vessels) occurs in the arteries to the head, producing a pounding pain.

However, not all migraine sufferers experience visual disturbances or vasodilation. Their migraines are assumed to be a primary disorder of the central nervous system.


  • Stress
  • Hunger
  • Dehydration
  • Poor posture
  • Weather change
  • Visual stimuli
  • Some foodstuffs; chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, pickles, sour cream, onions, sausages, pork, alcohol – especially red wine
  • Additives; monosodium, glutamate and aspartame
  • Medications such as the contraceptive pill
  • Auditory stimuli
  • Olfactory stimuli
  • Sleeping too long or too little
  • Hormonal shifts
  • Trigger points in neck
  • Whiplash
  • Aggravation of the nerve roots in C1 & C2
  • Allergies to foods.

Symptoms of a migraine:

  • Pulsating pain of moderate to severe intensity
  • Often unilateral (one side of head)
  • Hypersensitivity to light & sound
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold extremities and sweating
  • Very disabled sufferer (cannot function normally)
  • Symptoms last 4-72 hours.

Other factors:

  • 25% of women & 8% of men are affected
  • Usually a family history
  • Onset of migraine is variable
  • Often begins early in the morning
  • Can be a variety of symptoms 24 hours prior of an attack.

Treatment during an attack is possible. However great caution is used to not make the situation worse. Between attacks is the best time to seek treatment for headaches and migraines. Initially it would be best to follow up appointments close together (1/week for 3-6 weeks), then extend period to monthly maintenance when possible. Maintenance is the key.

By reducing the hypertonicity (tightness) of the neck, shoulder and thoracic muscles, we can improve the function and posture of a sufferer; and overall help reduce the frustrating and debilitating conditions that are headache and migraine.

If this blog did not answer your questions, or you feel unsure about the ache in your head; contact us!

After answering some questions we can determine if you need to see your GP.