Common Types of Headaches and Their Occurrence

Headaches are a common complaint affecting almost 50% of adults yearly. Although painful and debilitating, headaches can be treated with simple pain relievers that deliver immediate relief. However, when one experiences repeated attacks, it could be indicative of a more serious health condition requiring specialized treatment.

This blog discusses the most common types of headaches and their symptoms.

What is a Headache?

A headache is pain on the head or face, often described as pounding, throbbing, sharp, or dull. Headaches also differ based on severity, location, frequency, and pain type. The disorder is caused by signals that interact in your brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. During an attack, multiple mechanisms activate particular nerves that impact muscles and blood vessels. The nerves then send pain signals to the brain, resulting in headaches.

Types of Headache

There are several types of headaches, but the most common types include the following: 

Tension Headaches

A tension headache is described as mild to moderate pain that feels like a tight band around your head. It is one of the most common occurring types of headaches, although its causes are not well understood. Experts believe tension headaches occur when your neck and scalp muscles tense or contract in response to stress, depression, anxiety, or head injury.

  • Duration: Tension-type headaches can last from 30 minutes to several hours a week.
  • Pain pattern: A sensation of tightness or pressure that starts on the forehead and spreads across the sides and back of the head.


  • Dull aching head pain
  • Tenderness in the scalp, shoulders, and neck
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Fatigue or irritability

Cluster Headache 

A cluster headache is undeniably the most painful type of headache. These headaches cause severe pain in or around one eye or on the side of your head and tend to occur in cyclical patterns or cluster periods, hence their name. Bouts of frequent attacks usually last for several weeks to months, followed by brief periods of remissions. During the remission period, the attacks stop completely for months or even years, only to reoccur with extreme vengeance. 

  • Duration: Happens daily in bouts lasting several weeks or months
  • Pain pattern: Occurs in cyclical patterns or cluster periods


  • Excruciating pain in or around one eye
  • Restlessness
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Facial sweating
  • Excessive tearing


A migraine is typically a severe to moderate headache that feels like a pulsing sensation on one side of your head. People with migraine often experience extreme feelings of sickness and increased sensitivity to light or sound. The pain may also be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Migraine attacks typically last for hours to days, and the pain can be so extreme to impact your daily activities. For many patients, a warning symptom commonly known as an aura occurs just before the attacks or with an episode. Symptoms of aura include visual disturbances such as flashes of light and blind spots, difficulty speaking, and tingling sensation on the face or arm and leg. 

  • Duration: last for 4 to 72 hours
  • Pain pattern: severe throbbing pain or pulsing sensation on one side of the head


  • Throbbing or pulsing pain 
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or smell
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Severe thirst
  • Bloating
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Food cravings or lack of appetite 

How Can Physical Therapy Help with Headaches?

Physical therapy has been proven to reduce or resolve headaches’ intensity, frequency, and duration. The therapy works the neck, shoulder, and upper back muscles to enhance strength in those areas. The goal is to reduce stress and improve function and mobility. Increased stress generally increases the tension in your shoulder and neck muscles, which contributes to headaches.

Seek Help from Cawley Physical Therapy Today

Headaches are common conditions affecting millions of people each day. There are several types of headaches, and knowing which type is critical to seeking appropriate treatment. Although most headaches are not dangerous, certain types could be a sign of a severe condition.  

If you need help resolving recurring headaches, contact Cawley Physical Therapy today. Our highly experienced and compassionate therapists provide each patient with the most personal, individualized skilled physical therapy services to effectively treat symptoms of headaches. Call us today at 570-208-2787 or email