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The Facts About Headaches in Different Parts of Your Head

July 12, 2023

“Ow, my head hurts” is a fairly common complaint. Did you know, though, that where your head hurts can vary between headaches?

You probably haven’t really thought about it, but if you did, you might realize it’s true. There are multiple types of headaches, and each can affect your head and body in distinct ways.

Because your head will hurt differently with one type than it does with another, you’ll need to treat the headache differently. That’s why treating a headache starts with paying close attention to your symptoms.

The Mysteries of Headaches
Why do headaches occur in the first place? It’s pretty interesting! While you might think that your head hurts because your brain is in pain, the brain itself actually doesn’t have any pain-sensitive nerves. Instead, you experience a headache when nerve endings outside the brain called “nociceptors” react to certain triggers.  

Once triggered, the nociceptors send messages through the trigeminal nerve at the base of the brain to the thalamus, which controls pain and the body’s response to it.

Sound complicated? It is! In order for you to have a headache, multiple parts of your body are working in synchrony to react to a trigger. It’s like a symphony with different musical instruments playing, except a lot less pleasant.

Nearly every person of every age has experienced a headache or two. For some people, they’re relatively rare, but others may deal with headaches frequently. Headaches can also vary in intensity from easily manageable to disruptive and even debilitating.

Why Location Matters With Headaches
We tend to lump headaches all into one bucket, but in reality, there are many different types of headaches. More than 150 types, in fact! 

Headaches are divided into two categories—primary and secondary. Primary headaches occur on their own, while secondary headaches are related to an underlying health condition.

For the purposes of this blog, we’re going to focus on primary headaches, along with one specific type of secondary headache. As we dive into some types of headaches, you’ll notice that each affects a different part of the head, causing distinct symptoms.

If you’re experiencing pain that seems to wrap around your head like a headband, you likely have a tension headache. This is the most common type of headache, and it’s caused (yes, you guessed right) by tension of some sort. Stress or tight muscles can lead to tension headaches, which typically cause a dull, aching sensation around the head.

Experiencing intense pain on one side of your head? It could be a migraine. Migraine is a disorder that causes a pulsing pain deep within your head, usually causing pain that’s centered on one side of the head or the other. In addition to pain, you may also experience nausea and vomiting, light or sound sensitivity, or a sensation known as an aura.  

If your headache seems to be focused around one eye, it’s probably a cluster headache. This type of headache is relatively uncommon, but can be quite severe. As the name indicates, a person experiencing this type of headache will experience a bunch of headaches in a cluster, with one to eight headaches in a single day. Pain around the eye may also radiate into other parts of the body, including the neck, cheek, nose, temple, or even shoulder, still affecting only one side of the body.

Does your entire head feel like a pain? If you’re feeling pain and pressure in your cheeks and most of your face, you may have a sinus headache. This type of headache is a secondary headache, meaning it occurs as the result of an underlying condition—in this case, a sinus infection. Sinus headaches happen when the sinus passages located behind the eyes, nose, cheeks, and forehead are congested.

Treatment for a headache can vary on where the pain is located, so keep an eye on what’s causing your pain. Keeping a log of when you experience headaches, how intense they are, and the part of the head they affect can help your primary care provider make a diagnosis and offer suggestions for effective treatment.

Experiencing persistent or chronic headaches? You may benefit from the expertise of providers at West Tennessee Healthcare Neuroscience & Spine Center.