Tension Headache Or Migraine How To Know The Difference

Headaches are not only painful, they can also be frightening. There is more than one type of headache. Tension headaches and migraine headaches are usually the most troubling. Telling them apart is also difficult.

Physiotherapy can treat both tension headaches and migraines. By working with the muscles, joints and with the use of manual manipulation; often these types of headaches can be treated or even prevented. Some physiotherapy facilities in the Cambridge area have shared information to make telling the difference between tension headaches and migraines easier for the average patient.


Where is the pain?

Many times a migraine headache will hurt on one side of the head. It may be the left or right or the front or back. It is an intense pain, but rarely is it all over the head. The pain is usually throbbing.

A tension type headache is usually a dull pain. It sometimes feels like a rubber band placed around the head – described as pressure. Sometimes the pain is on the top of the head with a feeling of it being pushed down. The pain is not throbbing


A migraine is very sensitive to movement. Turning the head in any direction is very painful. Even eye movement can make the pain unbearable.

Movement does not cause any additional pain in a tension headache.



Nausea and vomiting (in some cases) often accompany a migraine headache.

There is no nausea with a tension headache.

Light and Noise

Migraine sufferers are hypersensitive to light and noise. Even someone being very quiet in another room can be heard by the sufferer and it is a horrid sensation that causes pain. Most migraine sufferers will close all the drapes and blinds and in some cases even have the windows covered with dark blankets in order to be in a completely darkened room. Even a night-light or clock will cause pain. They will cover their eyes with a cool cloth and lie very still.

Light and noise have no additional effect on the tension headache sufferer. Though they may not like it, it will not make their pain worse.

Vision Disturbances

A migraine sufferer may have blurred vision, or vision that seems to be “dizzy”. They may see tiny pulses of light in the eye. The vision issues will bring on nausea and vomiting unless they keep their eyes closed.

Tension headaches do not cause vision disturbances. Though there may be pain behind the eyes, it will be a generalized pain which is part of the headache.

How do they start?

Neither of these headaches gives a warning. Migraine sufferers may have triggers. A common trigger is caffeine. Therefore, if a person has caffeine, he may not be surprised when a headache arrives. Tension headaches are often caused from stress. The patient may feel tightness in the neck and shoulders. A migraine headache may begin while a person is sleeping. A tension headache does not begin during sleep.


Both types of these headaches are related to the blood flow in the neck and shoulders. Though migraines are neurological and tension headaches are caused by stress, both headaches can be lessened and sometimes prevented with the help of the type of therapy provided by physiotherapy. The muscles in the neck and shoulders can be relaxed with treatment and swelling can be reduced with ice which increases the blood flow to the head resulting in relief.

There are medications available to treat the symptoms. Over the counter medications are somewhat effective but do nothing to address the cause of the headache. In the event of an extreme headache that lasts more than four hours, medical care should be sought.

For more information visit Physio Cambridge