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Headaches: Definition and Types


What is a definition of headache?

A headache is defined as pain or discomfort in the head (except for the area of the face below the eyes) or in the back of the neck where it connects to the skull.

Headaches, like back pain, are among the most common physical complaints. While they are painful or even disabling, most headaches are not dangerous. (Less than 5% of all headaches are considered potentially life threatening.)

Most headaches are caused by musculoskeletal problems and can be treated without use of medical procedures or medications. Read more about causes of headaches >

What are different types of headaches?

In medical literature, headaches are divided into two groups: primary headaches and secondary headaches.
1. Primary headaches (90% of all headaches)
These are headaches that have no underlying diseases or pathologies. The most common primary headaches are:

  • tension-type headache (also called tension headache or muscular headache): This is the most common type of headache. About 80% of headaches in the general population are tension headaches. Tension headaches are muscular (myofascial) in origin and are caused by a sustained contraction of the neck, shoulder, or face muscles. Read more about how tight muscles can cause headaches >
  • migraine headache:  This is the second most common type of headache. About 13% of the general population suffers from migraines. The exact mechanism of migraines is not clearly understood, but we know that it is related to altered signal transmission between different parts of the brain, resulting in a combination of the dilation of blood vessels in the brain and the release of chemicals from nerve fibers that coil around these blood vessels. The important thing is that there is no brain pathology or disease associated with migraines. People in the general population frequently use the word migraine to describe excruciating headaches of any origin.
  • cluster headache and other trigeminal autonomic cephalgias: These headaches, just as migraine headaches, are neurological in nature.
  • post-traumatic headache
  • drug withdrawal or rebound headache
  • exertional headache

2. Secondary headaches (10% of all headaches)
Secondary headaches are caused by serious pathologic processes or diseases, such as brain tumors, aneurysms, inflammatory diseases, abnormalities of the spinal fluid, etc. Secondary headaches require medical management (and cannot be treated conservatively).
Headaches can also be named according to their causes:

  • muscular headache: Muscular headaches are caused by sustained, abnormal tension in the neck, shoulder, or face muscles. Chronically tight neck, shoulder, or face muscles can develop myofascial trigger points, which send (or refer) sensation of pain to the head. All tension headaches, most cervicogenic headaches, and TMJ headaches are muscular headaches. Read more about how tight muscles can cause headaches >
  • cervicogenic headache: In a cervicogenic headache, pain perceived in the head and/or face originates from the neck structures (e.g., muscles, joints, discs, ligaments of the neck). Read more about how neck joints can cause headaches >
  • TMJ headache: In a TMJ headache, head pain is referred from one or more sources in or around the jaw (e.g., jaw joint, disc, face muscles) and is perceived in one or more regions of the head and/or face.
  • postural headache: Postural headaches are headaches that result from poor posture. Since poor posture leads to abnormal tightening of the neck-shoulder muscles and may also cause cervical joint dysfunctions, it is ultimately the tight muscles or involved joints that refer pain to the head and/or face. Most tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches belong to the category of postural headaches.
  • vascular headache: Vascular headaches are caused by dilation (or swelling) of the blood vessels in the head and scalp. Migraine headaches, cluster headaches, and toxic headaches are examples of vascular headaches.
  • hormonal headache: Hormonal headaches are caused by hormonal fluctuations.


“I was suffering from severe headaches and neck pain when I met Teresa. Her warm, caring bedside manner and her expertise in pain management / treatment were invaluable. I recommend her to anyone seeking relief from headaches and neck pain.”

“In addition to providing a relief from headaches and TMJ pain, Teresa helped me understand my condition and taught me what to do in my daily life to remain pain-free.” Read more about what former patients say >



Read patient testimonials:

Watch video testimonials and read what our former patients say about headache treatment at New Body ~ New Mind.

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* Medical classification of headaches has been developed by The International Headache Society. HIS web-site will provide you with complete information about diagnostic criteria for various types of headaches:

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