headache, headache or migraine, headache vs migraine,, migraine

Headache or Migraine: How to Differentiate Between Headache and Migraine

The world’s most common ailment, besides back pain, happens to be a headache! We all remember that one day which got ruined because of a headache. We don’t think much about headaches – we all get them, it’s fine! However, when the headaches become frequent, they can become debilitating. This is one ailment that is difficult to diagnose. People who get recurrent headaches have often been to a myriad of doctors, undergone several tests, and tried various remedies.


Headaches can have many reasons, origins, and diagnoses. Lack of sleep, medical issues like blood pressure variations, excessive exertion, heat exposure, stress being a few of them. Oftentimes doctors look for sinister pathologies that can explain the headaches and that’s great. One must be careful. However, one origin of headaches- the neck (this is defined as a cervical headache)- is often ignored and I have treated more headaches by treating the neck alone that with anything else. Another confusion is interchanging the word “headache” with “migraine”. I meet a lot of patients, friends, and acquaintances who tell me that they have a migraine; however, I know that it isn’t a migraine but a cervical headache. You may ask- what’s the difference and why one must know! The reason is simple. Only if you know the cause can you take care of it effectively. Else you will be doing a lot of things trying to remedy it but actually making the problem worse.

Headache vs. Migraine

So, do you get migraines? You might say you don’t know – You get headaches but don’t know whether they are migraines or not! Let me explain in a nutshell.

  • If you have a headache that begins from the base of your head and moves upwards, then it is a cervical headache. It may be on one side of the head or even in the eye region. Usually, pain is the only symptom.
  • If the headache is on the crown and you have one or more of the following symptoms associated with it –  dizziness, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, nausea, etc. – then you most definitely have a migraine.

How to treat Migraine

If you do get migraines, you know they are no walk in the park!!! They are disabling! But the good news is that they are relatively easier to treat compared to those cervical headaches. Migraines occur due to reduced blood flow in blood vessels of the brain- in layman terms. This may occur due to several triggers. The trigger could be anything from straining your eyes to skipping a meal! The tricky part is identifying your trigger; once that is done you can be migraine free if you are careful. So, if you have a migraine, all you CAN do is lie down without a pillow, room as dark and quiet as possible, and an ice pack on the top of your head. This will temporarily help. Of course, you will need to take a pill if it is severe enough! 

Treatment for Headache

On the contrary, if you have persistent cervical headaches you need to see a good physiotherapist to mobilize your neck and relieve them. You may need to do some neck exercises, and get some guidance on posture correction. Identifying the postures/movements that aggravate or trigger the headache is crucial. For example – excessive use of cell phones (looking down), sleeping on a soft/thick pillow, continuous use of a laptop in poor posture, reading a book in wrong positions, prolonged driving, and continuous writing are some of the faulty patterns that may be contributory. It is a process but totally worth it. There are many other causes of headaches, cervical headaches being only one of the classifications (albeit the most common one for the modern stuck-to-the-laptop man or woman). Hence, if your headaches are persistent with no change in symptoms with basic remedies, especially if they are constant (24/7) then it may be prudent to do a proper check-up with a medical practitioner.

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