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The Difference Between Migraines and Tension Headaches


Headaches can be severely painful, and many times it is hard to know what is triggering them. Migraines and tension headaches, while both unpleasant, are unique in their symptomatic expression. Understanding the differences between them could help you to avoid your next episode.


How Migraine Symptoms Differ from Tension Headache Symptoms



  • Severe pain, usually described as “throbbing”
  • Usually felt on one side of the head
  • May be sensitive to light, sound
  • Nausea
  • See spots or flashing lights prior to an episode
  • Triggers include low blood sugar (skipping meals), lack of sleep, alcohol consumption, strong smells, and stress

Tension Headache

  • Mild to moderate pain
  • Typically felt on both sides of the head – temples, forehead, and/or base of skull
  • Achy pain
  • Triggers include lack of sleep, poor posture, stress, eyestrain

How Are Migraine Headaches and the Neck Connected?


The spinal cord is housed within the bones of the spine, which helps protect the spinal cord. The role of the spinal cord is to send signals to and from the brain. If a misalignment occurs to the top bone of the neck (atlas) it can put the spinal cord under pressure. This can lead to issues with the communication process of relaying of signals between brain and body, which can cause facial pain, muscle spasms, and other migraine symptoms.


As an upper cervical chiropractor, I am trained in Atlas Orthogonal, a specific chiropractic technique focused on identifying and improving atlas misalignments. This technique administers a gentle and precise chiropractic adjustment that doesn’t involve twisting, popping, or cracking. Once the spine is realigned, the stress to the spinal cord is diminished, which can mean fewer migraine symptoms in the future.


A researcher named Verderame and his colleague reported a situation where a 75-year-old woman had chronic migraine headaches that began when she was a teenager. In the past, she had been using pain medication and anti-inflammatories to cope with her symptoms but only experienced minimal relief in her headache severity. After being treated by an upper cervical chiropractor and receiving an atlas correction over a period of 5 months, her migraine severity improved from a pain level of 8/10 to 3/10. According to her doctor, her migraines got less frequent and were shorter in duration. This case and many like it provide a ray of hope for those suffering from migraines. We have had similar and even better results with our migraine patients. Call us today to see what upper cervical chiropractic care can do for you. 




1. Nall R. Migraine vs. Headache: How to Tell Them Apart [Internet]. Healthline. 2015 [cited 4 April 2016]. Available from:


2.Silberstein S. Migraine – Neurologic Disorders [Internet]. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. 2014 [cited 4 April 2016]. Available from: 


3. Silberstein S. Tension-Type Headache – Neurologic Disorders [Internet]. Merck Manuals Professional Edition. 2014 [cited 4 April 2016]. Available from:


4. Verderame J, Hollowell J. Cone-beam Computerized Tomography for the Bio-mechanical Assessment of the Occipito-atlanto-axial Articulation in a 75-year-old Woman with Migraines Undergoing Blair Technique. J Upper Cerv Chiro Res [Internet]. 2013 [cited 4 April 2016];2013(July):60-64. Available from: 

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