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8 common types of headaches and how to treat them (a complete guide)

by Dr Lillie Lines

Last updated July 19, 2023

If you get headaches, know that you're not alone. According to the World Health Organization, nearly half of all adults have had at least one headache within the last year.1(Source: World Health Organization)

While there are more than 200 types of headaches2(Source: International Headache Society), only a few are very common such as cervicogenic headaches, tension headaches and migraines.

The good news? Most of the time, headaches are not a symptom of serious illness and can be managed by avoiding triggers, using appropriate medications or seeking physical treatment.

At Rasura Chiropractic Centres, we help patients get relief from headaches every day. In this article, we will walk you through the 8 types of headaches that we see most frequently, what causes them and how to treat them so you can get back to living your life.

Let’s get to it.

1. Cervicogenic Headaches

A cervicogenic headache (CGH) is a common and recurrent type of headache that originates from your neck and affects one or more regions of your head. It typically begins after a neck movement and often reduces your range of motion in the neck.

This type of headache is commonly misdiagnosed, and its symptoms can be mistaken for migraines, tension headaches, or other primary headache syndromes.

What They Feel Like

  • Pain originating from the neck and radiating along the temple and forehead
  • Reduced flexibility of the neck


  • Problems with your neck, such as vertebra alignment, irritated joints, or muscle spasms
  • A fall, injury, or whiplash (which is common after a car accident)
  • Arthritis, degeneration or tumours/cancers


  • Physical therapies such as spinal manipulation through chiropractic care and remedial massage therapy can effectively alleviate and reduce the frequency of cervicogenic headaches by relaxing your neck muscles and improving your range of motion.
  • Complementing physical therapy with an ongoing exercise regimen often yields the best outcomes. Your chiropractor can design a personalised exercise and stretching program.
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga, can also be beneficial.
  • Deep dry needling (which we perform at Rasura Chiropractic Centres) or acupuncture can be effective.
  • If necessary, pain relief medication can be prescribed by your GP.
  • In severe cases, a nerve block procedure may be considered, or surgery can be recommended to alleviate nerve compression.

2. Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. They often result from tight muscles in the neck and head, stress, lack of sleep, or poor posture.

What They Feel Like

  • A dull, achy pain with a feeling of pressure around your head, which can extend to muscles in your scalp, neck, and shoulders.


  • Tight muscles in the neck and head
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor posture


  • Massaging the head, neck, and shoulders to release tension
  • Having your body adjusted by your chiropractor can be effective
  • Over-the-counter painkillers can provide temporary relief
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Improving your sitting and standing posture
  • Practicing regular exercise and stretching exercises like yoga or swimming
  • Consider having an eye test if eye strain is contributing to your headaches
  • Managing stress, anxiety, or depression with appropriate techniques (such as Bowen therapy, reiki or meditation) or with professional help
  • Having a hot bath or a sauna can help soothe muscle tension
  • Consider acupuncture

3. Migraines

Migraines, if left untreated, can last between 4 and 72 hours or longer3(Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke), significantly impacting your daily routines. They may be associated with genetic factors or other nervous system conditions.

What They Feel Like

  • Throbbing pain on one side of the head, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
  • Sometimes with sensory disturbances called aura, including flashes of light, blind spots, and other vision changes or tingling in your hand or face.
  • Movement, light, and sound may worsen the pain.


  • Stress and anxiety
  • Sleep disruption
  • Dehydration
  • Skipping meals
  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain foods and medications
  • Bright lights and loud noise


  • Medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and triptans, can help ease pain (consult your doctor).
  • Having a chiropractor adjust your neck can help minimise the duration of your migraine.
  • Antiemetics can help manage nausea and vomiting (consult your doctor).
  • Resting in a dark, quiet environment.
  • Applying an ice pack or cold cloth to your forehead.
  • Staying hydrated by drinking 2 to 3 litres of water daily.
  • Neurostimulation techniques, like transcranial magnetic stimulation, may be considered.

4. Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are a very painful type of headache that comes in cycles. They often wake people up in the middle of the night with intense pain around the eye on one side of the head.

These headaches happen at the same time every day, almost like clockwork (which is the other name for this type of headache). They can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours, and people may have multiple headaches in a row. Each cycle might last for weeks or months.

What They Feel Like

  • Swelling, redness, flushing, and sweating on the side affected by the headache.
  • Nasal congestion and eye tearing on the same side as the headache.
  • Some patients have one of these symptoms, some have all of them.


  • The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown, they can happen to anyone.
  • Certain lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking heavily, and consuming caffeine can trigger them.
  • Men are three times more likely than women to experience cluster headaches.
  • Cluster headaches may run in families.


  • Medication prescribed by your doctor is the primary treatment for cluster headaches.
  • Inhalation of oxygen through a mask can provide relief during an episode.
  • Nasal sprays with local anaesthetics may also be helpful.

5. Sinus or Allergy Headaches

Headaches can sometimes be triggered by allergic reactions, and the pain is often centred around the sinus area and the front of the head.

However, true sinus headaches are relatively rare. If there are no nasal symptoms, the headache is more likely to be a migraine attack.

What They Feel Like

  • Pain and pressure behind the eyes, cheeks, and forehead, with aching in the teeth. The pain is similar to a migraine and may worsen when bending over or lying down.


  • Inflammation of the sinuses due to allergies or infection.


  • Sinus drainage massage (adjustments to the skull performed by a chiropractor).
  • Resting and drinking plenty of fluids can help relieve symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter pain relief can be effective.
  • Nasal decongestants and saltwater nasal sprays from the pharmacy may provide relief.
  • Antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays, available on prescription, can also help.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed by your GP if there is a bacterial infection.

6. Post-Traumatic Headaches

If you experience a head injury due to an accident, you may get a post-traumatic headache, typically two or three days after the trauma. These headaches can last for several months and may become chronic.

It’s important to consult a doctor immediately after an accident, as other complications can arise such as concussion.

What They Feel Like

  • Post-traumatic headaches can feel similar to tension headaches or migraine episodes.
  • Additional symptoms may include memory problems, fatigue, irritability, vertigo, and light-headedness.


  • Head injuries


  • Mobilisations and stretches provided by your chiropractor.
  • Over-the-counter pain relief can help manage post-traumatic headaches (consult your GP).
  • If symptoms are severe or get worse over time, seek immediate medical attention.

7. Hormonal Headaches (Menstrual Migraines)

People who menstruate may experience headaches linked to hormonal fluctuations. These headaches often occur two days before or during the first three days of the menstrual period or during ovulation.

What They Feel Like

  • Throbbing pain on one side of the head, sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and aura (audio-visual disturbances preceding other symptoms).


  • Hormonal changes during menstruation
  • Use of oral contraceptives
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause


  • Resting or sleeping in a dark, quiet room can provide relief (sleep can shorten or stop migraine episodes in some individuals).
  • Staying hydrated and having a light meal can help if hunger or dehydration is a trigger.
  • Keeping a symptom diary can help identify connections between migraine symptoms and hormonal fluctuations.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and medications from the triptan family can help alleviate your symptoms (consult your doctor).

8. Hypertension Headaches

Hypertension headaches occur in a small percentage of people when their blood pressure becomes dangerously high (greater than 180/120 mmHg). The pain from these headaches is often experienced all over the head and may be described as a "hair band" type pain.

What They Feel Like

  • All-over pressure, most severe in the morning, improving throughout the day. Pain may be described as throbbing or pulsating.
  • Symptoms may be accompanied by feelings of depression and general ill-being.
  • Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, and dizziness.


  • High blood pressure
  • Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (in third-trimester pregnant mothers and post-delivery mothers) which Dr Lillie Lines has personally experienced


  • Your GP or obstetrician may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure, or use intravenous medication during emergencies.
  • Lifestyle changes are essential to manage hypertension headaches effectively:
    • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
    • Engage in regular physical activity.
    • Manage stress levels.
    • Reduce salt and fat intake while increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.

Primary vs Secondary Headaches

Headaches are classified as either primary or secondary.

Primary headaches account for about 95% of headaches4(Source: American Chiropractic Association). They occur independently, whereas secondary headaches occur as a result of other health problems.

Today, the majority of primary headaches are associated with muscle tension in the neck. Modern lifestyles with increased sedentary activities and prolonged fixed postures (such as working at a computer) can contribute to joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back, and scalp, leading to debilitating headaches.

Chiropractors can help release these headaches through mobilisation techniques, soft tissue therapies such as massage and manual adjustments.

The Do's and Don’ts of Headaches

👍 Do

  • Take time to rest or sleep in a dark, quiet room to allow your body to recover (especially for migraine).
  • Regularly stretch and practice low-impact exercises, such as walking, gentle swimming, or yoga, especially if you suffer from primary headaches.
  • Stay well-hydrated by drinking 8 glasses (approximately 2 litres) of water daily, as dehydration can trigger headaches.
  • Maintain a headache diary to identify patterns and triggers, helping both you and your doctor to manage your headaches more effectively.
  • Consult your chiropractor to diagnose the specific type of headache you're experiencing and receive appropriate treatment.
  • Consider seeking chiropractic care early on to help diagnose which type of headache you have and organise a treatment plan. Chiropractic can be an effective treatment option especially for cervicogenic headaches, tension headaches and migraines.

👎 Don't

  • Avoid jaw/teeth clenching, as it can lead to tension headaches. Be conscious of this habit throughout the day and during your sleep.
  • Avoid using over-the-counter pain medications more than 3 times a week, as this can lead to 'medication overuse headaches’, not to mention constipation.

When Should I Seek Help?

While headaches are common and often mild, you should consult your doctor if they occur frequently and hinder your daily activities, if you find yourself regularly taking pain medicine for headaches, or if you experience any of the following symptoms alongside your headache:

  • The worst headache you've ever had (10 out of 10 pain, usually at the base of your skull)
  • Paralysis in any part of your body
  • Fever of 38°C or higher
  • Slurring of words
  • Stiff neck
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Visual loss
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of sensation
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Change in personality
  • Aura (vision) symptoms lasting longer than an hour
  • Morning headaches accompanied by nausea that persist

Proper diagnosis and treatment are crucial in managing headaches effectively, so don't hesitate to reach out to healthcare professionals.

That’s a Wrap

Headaches are a common problem that most people experience at some point in their lives. In this guide, we talked about the eight main types of headaches and how to manage them. The most common types of headache are cervicogenic headaches, tension headaches and migraines.

You can sometimes manage headaches by making simple lifestyle changes such as getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and reducing stress.

However if you experience severe or frequent headaches, you should consult your GP for further investigation. It's also a good idea to keep a headache diary to help identify patterns and triggers.

Chiropractors can help relieve your pain with specific adjustments and personalised advice on lifestyle, exercise, diet and food supplements. At Rasura Chiropractic Centres, we help our patients free themselves from headaches every day.

Are you affected by headaches? Our team of experienced chiropractors in Maroochydore and Coolum Beach are only a phone call away and can see you from Monday to Saturday.


What are the most common types of headaches?

In our clinics, we most often see these 8 types of headaches:

  • Cervicogenic Headaches
  • Tension Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Cluster Headaches
  • Sinus or Allergy Headaches
  • Post-Traumatic Headaches
  • Hormonal Headaches (Menstrual Migraines)
  • Hypertension Headaches
  • Dr Lillie Lines

    Dr Lillie is a passionate Chiropractor and Myotherapist enthusiastic about all aspects of natural healing, who enjoys helping her patients achieve their goals of optimal health and wellbeing. She practices at Rasura Chiropractic Centres in Maroochydore, Sunshine Coast.

    View all posts

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