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The Most Common Types of Headaches (and How We Treat Them)

May 20, 2024
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While an occasional headache may not be life-changing, chronic head pain definitely is. If you’re one of the millions of people who struggle with ongoing and severe headaches or migraines, read this.

Back pain may top the list in terms of worldwide disability, but headaches aren’t very far behind — 40% of the global population (that’s 3.1 billion people!) has a headache disorder.

If you’re plagued by frequent and debilitating headaches, we understand your need for relief. That's why the team of pain management experts at Commonwealth Pain & Spine offers comprehensive headache and migraine care. Here’s what we want you to know about headaches.

The complexities of headaches

Not only are billions of people affected by head pain around the world, but headaches are even more challenging because there are so many different kinds — more than 150 different types of headaches.

To help break headaches down, we can first divide them into one of two categories:

  1. Primary — the headache is a standalone issue
  2. Secondary — the head pain is a result of another condition

In many cases, secondary headaches are temporary, such as a sinus headache due to a cold or a hangover due to too much alcohol. These headaches are easier to deal with because they’re often temporary and clear up alongside the underlying conditions.

For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll stick to primary headaches, which are traditionally more difficult to address since they’re less predictable. In fact, only about 10% of headaches have a known cause, which means treatment often comes down to pain management.

Common culprits behind head pain

There are many different types of headaches, but most people fall prey to a handful of culprits when it comes to primary headaches. These include:

Migraines

This type of head pain is in a class of its own as it’s a neurological disorder more than anything else. At least 39 million Americans experience migraine attacks, which count one-sided throbbing head pain among their main characteristics. Migraines can also lead to visual disturbances, fatigue, nausea, and more, lasting for hours or days.

When it comes to treating migraines, we’ve had great success with Botox®, a neurotoxin that can reduce the frequency of migraines. We use this treatment alongside other effective strategies like trigger management.

Tension headaches

The most common type of headache is a tension headache, which can feel like your head and neck are in a vice-like grip.

In most cases, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can handle tension headaches, but we have plenty of patients who struggle with chronic tension headaches. These cases require a higher standard of care, and we recommend combination treatments that might include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Cognitive behavioral training
  • Trigger management
  • Stress management

Rest assured, we work with you until we find a workable solution for your tension headaches.

Cluster headaches

Like the other headaches we’ve reviewed, cluster headaches are challenging. They occur in clusters, and as soon as one headache is over, another begins, and the cycle continues during a flare-up. Patients describe cluster headaches as piercing or stabbing pain, often on one side of the face, behind the eye.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what causes cluster headaches, so treatments are tricky, especially since episodes can come and go. During an episode, we can provide medications to relieve your head pain. We’ve also had some success with medications like anti-seizure drugs to prevent cluster headaches.

If you’re suffering from frequent headaches that are significantly impacting your quality of life, please come see us so that we can help you find relief.

To get started, simply schedule an appointment at one of our 21 conveniently located offices in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.