What's the Difference Between a Tension Headache and a Migraine?

Many patients visit our Farmington migraine relief clinic for both tension headaches and migraines. Unfortunately, they are often confused about the two head pain disorders. Oftentimes, people would mistake tension headaches for migraines and vice versa. Head pain can be present in both conditions, and this fact probably fueled the misconception. However, we’ll set the record straight and tell you why these painful disorders are vastly different from each other.


Tension Headaches vs Migraines

Believe it or not, tension headaches and migraines are utterly different from each other. For one, you might be able to tell their difference by the way your head hurts.

If you’re experiencing tension headaches, you’re likely going to feel a “band” tightening around your head. This tension and pressure around your head are the tell-tale signs of a tension headache.

However, if you’re feeling a pounding or throbbing pain in one side of your head, you have a migraine attack. Imagine your heart moved to your head. This painful pulsating headache is the most telling symptom of a migraine episode.

Tension headaches and migraines are highly prevalent conditions that quite a lot of people all over the globe are experiencing. So, we’ll further differentiate these two conditions so that you’ll be able to recognize what you’re dealing with.


Varying Symptoms

To enlighten you about the difference between tension headaches and migraines, let’s begin by talking about their varying symptoms.

Unlike migraines, tension headaches usually come and go and then return. Migraineurs who come to our Farmington migraine relief clinic complain about chronic bouts of migraines that occur consistently for a short period. However, there are isolated cases where headaches also become chronic or attack more than 15 days in a 30-day period.

Tension headaches, as mentioned above, are primarily characterized by band-like pressure around the head. Some patients may also tell you that they experience muscle pain surrounding the neck and shoulders.

On the other hand, migraines have more complex symptoms besides a pulsating headache on one side of the head. Here are the common symptoms of a migraine attack:

  • Sensitivity to bright lights and loud noise
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Nausea
  • An urge to vomit

Unlike tension headaches, migraine attacks often leave their victims incapacitated. Migraineurs describe their episodes as excruciating headaches, forcing them to retreat to a dark room to wait for the episode to end.

To learn more about the connection between head and neck injuries and migraines, download our complimentary e-book by clicking the image below.

Different Causes

Tension headaches are usually a result of specific activities and events. For example, stress, hunger, and lack of sleep can bring about an attack. Eye strains and poor posture may also lead to an onset of tension headaches. 

Triggers of tension headache pale in comparison with migraine triggers. If you suffer from migraines, you should be wary of these things that might prompt an attack:

  • Weather changes
  • Hormonal changes
  • Bright, pulsating lights
  • Loud noises
  • Bad odors
  • Overexertion
  • Stress
  • Poor posture
  • Lack of sleep

It’s worth noting that headaches can also trigger migraine attacks if you have migraines. Hence, getting tension headaches can lead to migraines. So, it would be best if you come prepared for when an attack commences.


How to Prevent Tension Headaches and Migraines

Believe it or not, despite their differences, you can hit two birds with one stone. An effective way to reduce instances of tension headaches and migraine attacks is to control their common causes. In this article, we’ll talk about ways to manage stress to prevent tension headaches and migraines.

Proper diet

When you get stressed, your body releases stress hormones that result in inflammation. This inflammation could strike the head, leading to tension headaches and migraines. So, in a way, combating inflammation can help relieve these conditions.

That said, eating more leafy greens and fresh fruits can reduce inflammation and, therefore, reduce headaches and migraines. Also, as we tell those who visit our Farmington migraine relief clinic, make sure that you eat in time and increase your water intake.


Working out is not only an excellent way to keep yourself in good shape. Furthermore, this is perhaps the most agreeable method to release stress positively. To reduce your headaches and migraines, try to work out daily. However, only engage in mild or moderate exercises, such as yoga, swimming, walking, and jogging.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques are beneficial both physically and mentally. Hence, these activities can potentially remove the physical and mental effects of stress. That said, you might want to do some trial and error with some hobbies and exciting activities. Choose one interest that makes you happy the most.


End Tension Headaches and Migraines Through Upper Cervical Care

If you notice the causes of tension headaches and migraines, another common trigger is poor posture. When you fail to correct your posture for an extended period, you give your neck and spine excessive tension and pressure. In many cases, this added pressure leads to a neck misalignment.

In case you didn’t know, neck misalignments can disrupt the normal blood flow and signal transmissions between the body and brain. As a result, the lack of oxygen to the brain and scrambled messages might manifest as painful headaches.

Upper cervical chiropractic refers to gentle and precise adjustment techniques to correct neck misalignments. Here at Premier Family Wellness and Spinal Care, a trusted Farmington migraine relief clinic, our goal is to provide you freedom from neck misalignment issues, including migraines and tension headaches.

If you want to learn more about our technique, fill out this contact form, and our team will gladly answer your questions.


To schedule a consultation with Dr. Perkins, call 248-780-8864 or just click the button below area.

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If you are outside of the local area you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at www.uppercervicalawareness.com.

Dr. Chris Perkins Chiropractor Farmington Hills Mi.

Meet Dr. Christopher Perkins

Dr. Perkins grew up in Novi, Michigan and attended Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. He received his Doctorate Magna Cum Laude with a focus on Upper Cervical Chiropractic care. Chris is well known in the community for his public speaking and holds a number of professional certifications. We are proud to say that Dr. Perkins and Perkins Family Wellness has been recognized by Hour Magazine as one of the Top Chiropractors in Metro Detroit  for 3 years in row.

Learn more about the doc.


"After 30 plus years of almost daily headaches and increasing severe debilitating migraines, I am pain free. I had tried everything, including 3 different chiropractors, medical tests, food allergy tests, special prism glasses, massage, etc. Dr. Perkins was a life changer for sure. Thanks to Dr. Perkins, I now know what it is like to live without pain. For someone with my headache history, this is a miracle"... Kathy Hiatt
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At Premier Family Wellness & Spinal Care in Farmington, MI will not only help you get well, but also stay well.


33966 West 8 Mile Rd. Suite 103
Farmington, MI 48335

Office Hours

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Tues: 8am - 12:30pm
Wed: 9am - 6pm
Thurs: 9am - 5pm
Fri: Closed
Sat/Sun: Closed
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