Common Types and Tricks of Headaches

Did you know that roughly 45 million Americans complain of headaches every year?

Meaning it is quite prevalent and if you have ever had a headache, you know how debilitating they can be. What you might not know, is that not all headaches are the same. There are a few different types of headaches and different ways for them to be best treated. Below you will read a little bit about the different types and some tricks you can try to self-manage your headaches.


There are two different versions of migraines, one with Aura and one without. An Aura is symptom or sensations, such as flashing lights or zigzag line, which typically occur prior to a migraine headache.

Without Aura

  • Headaches usually last 4-72 hours
  • Usually has a unilateral location, pulsing quality, moderate or severe pain intensity
  • Nausea or photophobia can occur during the headache

With Aura

  • Visual or sensory changes
  • Each aura symptom lasts 5-60 minutes
  • At least one aura symptom is unilateral
  • Aura symptom is accompanied by a headache

Unfortunately, there are no great tricks for treating true migraines. Medication may be necessary. Things you can manage if you suffer from migraines are working on stress reduction, maintaining a consistent exercise routine, focusing on sleep quality, and modifying your diet.

Tension-Type Headaches:

These tend to be a more common type of headache but tend to present with other types of headaches as well.


  • Headache lasts from 30 minutes to 7 days
  • Headache has two of the following
    • Bilateral location
    • Tightening feeling
    • Mild to moderate intensity
  • Both need to be present
    • No nausea or vomiting
    • No more than one photo or phonophobia


  • Diaphragmatic breathing to help with stress management
  • Postural adjustments
  • Heat or ice
  • Proper hydration
  • Exercise: lower intensity without increasing symptoms
  • Pectoral stretch
  • Upper trap stretch
  • Shoulder and upper back strengthening

Cervicogenic Headaches:

These are also very common headaches that are often treated in physical therapy. These headaches typically originate from the upper cervical spine, just below the base of the skull.


  • Pain is in the neck or just below the skull, and can spread in the head, usually located on one side
  • Pain is usually aggravated secondary to specific neck movements or sustained postures
  • Limited neck motion, changes in neck tightness, or increased tenderness to the neck
  • Usually caused from static weight-bearing positions


  • Chin tucks
  • Upper trap stretches
  • Adjust posture/Postural exercises
  • Self Soft tissue mobilization to the base of the skull with a couple tennis balls
  • Banded traction
  • Neck strengthening

As always, this is very general information and if you are suffering from neck pain or headaches, it would be in your best interest to visit a physical therapist to fully assess your limitations. Together, you can figure out what is the best treatment for you, to get you out of pain and improve your quality of life.

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