Headaches…Tension or Migraine?

By July 11, 2014Pain Info

Tension Headaches versus Migraine Headaches

Tension and migraine headaches are terms that people often throw around without a clear understanding of the distinction between the two. Often a person will simply use whatever term they hear most often or heard first used. It is a tricky question for health professionals at times as well, so it is understandable why there is lots of confusion.

Both tension and migraine headaches vary tremendously from person to person. These symptoms pictures are general but often can differentiate between the two. If you are experiencing a new headache you have never felt before (especially if you are over the age of 50) go see a physician.

Tension Headaches

  • Can be on one side of the head or both
  • Pain is diffuse (spread out) and constant
  • Pain may be dull or vise-like
  • Duration can be 30 minutes to weeks
  • Onset often is later in the afternoon
  • Often a mild disability, person can still function in day-to-day activities, can become moderate or severe
  • Can be associated with neck and shoulder pain, tenderness or stiffness
  • Often begin occurring in early adulthood
  • nausea and dizziness

Migraine Headaches

  • Can be on one side of the head or both
  • Pain is pulsating
  • Moderate to severe intensity
  • Often begins as dull ache or sensation of pressure, increasingly intense with pounding Sensation that localizes in one area
  • Can also begin abruptly, with a global throbbing sensation
  • Begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood
  • Lasts for 4-72 hours commonly
  • Onset is variable, can have early morning onset
  • Hypersensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Migraine sufferings often withdraw to a quiet and dark room to rest
  • Can occur with or without an Aura

Like I mentioned previously, the symptom picture varies considerably from person to person, but this general guideline should help most people identify which type of headache they are suffering from. It should also help you to explain what symptoms you are feeling and help put words to the somethings very hard to describe symptoms.

In future posts I will explore the topics of headaches much further. They are very common conditions that massage therapy has tremendous potential to help with. I will specifically review and highlight research on massage therapy and its effect on tension and migraine headaches.

If you have any questions feel free to give us a call or send me an email at: ArnoldwarkentinRMT@gmail.com


Rattray, F., Ludwig, L. (2000). Clinical Massage Therapy. Toronto, Canada: Talus Incorporated.

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