headaches and migraines

The Difference Between Headaches and Migraines

Although a “typical” headache can be severe, there often is a distinct look of pain in the face of someone experiencing a migraine. That’s probably because the nasty, stabbing sensation that patients describe as “complete torture” – usually on one side of the head, but sometimes both – when experiencing a migraine is often accompanied by:

  • Sensitivity to light, noise – and sometimes smells and touch
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting

And it’s difficult to nail down why some suffer from migraines and others don’t. The Mayo Clinic succinctly organizes triggers for headaches and migraines – and there’s clearly an overlap:

  • Stress
  • Alcohol and caffeine
  • Lack of hydration
  • Changes in wake-sleep patterns
  • Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity
  • Environmental changes
  • Foods or food additives
  • Medications
  • Hormonal changes in women

And because these potential triggers don’t even trigger a headache in most people, in my opinion, there’s an even deeper sensitivity with a person experiencing a migraine. Remember, pain is the body’s reaction to something else that’s going on.

Headaches 101

Primary headaches happen in the nerves, blood vessels and muscles that cover the head and neck. Sometimes the muscles or blood vessels swell or tighten, which puts pressure on surrounding nerves. These nerves send pain messages to the brain, and bring on the headache. So a headache is not actually a pain in your brain.

The most common types of primary headaches are:

  • Tension or muscle-contraction headache – stressed-out head or neck muscles just keep squeezing
  • Cluster headaches – severe headaches on one side of the head that come in clusters or cycles
  • Migraines

A secondary headache is one that is prompted by any number of underlying conditions such as a sinus infection, high blood pressure, the flu – or occasionally something more severe, such as a blood clot. Most headaches, though, are not the result of serious illness – with tension headaches being the most common.

One big difference between tension headaches and migraines is that tension headaches rarely cause nausea or vomiting. And even though migraine pain can be excruciating, it is not a symptom of something more severe.

So if you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, keep a detailed journal. What happened in terms of stress, relationships, work? How many hours did you sleep the night before? What did you do that day, eat that day, drink that day? And the day before? A sugary meal at night, for example, might have you waking up with a headache. These entries offer clues to help your medical professional diagnose the cause of your pain.

Headaches and migraines treatment

I get grumpy with even a minor tension headache. Yet, we have so many patients who suffer from migraines – and can show up at Pain Stop North Phoenix even while in really bad pain. They’re just so used to having to function. I’m in awe of them.

But they don’t have to live like that – or even with painful frequent stress-induced headaches. There’s no cost to find out what’s going on – and there’s no pressure to commit to treatment.

About 99 percent of the time, Pain Stop North Phoenix can make a difference and achieve really good results.

Every potential patient will first converse and consult with my husband, Pierce Waychoff, DO, clinic director and owner. The exam will be problem-focused, and this is where a journal can be really helpful. He will then refer the patient to others in our team of professionals for further testing, if necessary, and then implementation of the specific headache and migraine treatment plan, which might include:

  • Trigger point injections with trigger point massage
  • Physical therapy and assisted stretching
  • A combination of many of the physical medicine modalities and therapeutic procedures that we offer.
  • Being encouraged to stay as active as possible throughout the day as activity helps with most conditions. Someone with a desk job can make a point to stand and walk when they’re on the phone, for example – or walk to a coworker with a question rather than email.

Our immediate goal is to see a reduction in the intensity as well as the length of time that the headaches endure. A risk-free call to Pain Stop North Phoenix is the first step to clearing your head.

By Erin Waychoff, DC

Owner of Pain Stop North Phoenix

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