Should I Worry About My Headache? | Cardin & Miller

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When Should I Worry About My Headache?

Tired and stressed young asian woman feel pain eyestrain and rubbing her eyes and take off her glasses while sitting at her working place

Most of us experience a headache at some point in our lives. In fact, unless you’re very lucky, you’ve probably had a headache more than once and it's probably been more like many headaches at many points in your life.

Headaches are a common occurrence for most people. Plus, although we don’t recommend it, most adults are familiar with a hangover headache too.

So, whether it's from dehydration, looking at a screen for too long, or an underlying medical condition, most of us know what it feels like to have a “head ache ."

Amazingly, there are over 300 different types of headaches, and 90% of them have no known cause.  

But when should you worry?

How many headaches are too many headaches?

Let’s dig a little deeper…

If you have a mild headache that passes quickly with nothing more than over-the-counter medication, increasing your water intake, or resting your mind/body/eyes, then it is an unlikely cause for concern unless it repeatedly happens over a long period (chronic).

In that case, it’s a good idea to find and fix the root cause with the help of a Physical Therapist.

In rare cases, unrelenting moderate to severe pain in the head could be a sign of something more serious that requires intervention – like a tumor, blood clot, or a stroke. 

However, even with severe head pain, the cause is much more likely to be a migraine headache, so there is no need to worry unduly. But it's best to get checked out.

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So, When Should I Worry About A Headache?

stressed young woman working with computer at home

It's easy to get anxious when you have a headache. But although it might feel like your brain is hurting or someone is digging out your skull with an ice pick when you have a headache, it might interest you to know that your brain and skull don’t have pain receptors. Weird, right? But it's true.

Technically, you could have surgery on your brain without feeling any pain.

However, we would not recommend trying it because the “meninges” that cover the brain, the "periosteum," the network of blood vessels that encase your skull and other bones in your body, and the scalp do have pain receptors. So, cutting through any of these tissues will hurt.

So, although the brain is probably not the cause of your headaches, there are layers of live connective tissue filled with nerves and many areas around the head and neck, like the sinuses, the jaw and teeth, and the neck itself, that can contribute to head pain and headaches.

In most cases, you can treat headaches at home with lots of water, rest, and maybe a cooling/warming pack on your head or over your eyes.

Even better, if you can convince someone to give you a stress-relieving massage to relax your neck and shoulder.

But there are occasions when headaches require medical attention from a Physician. So if you have any of the following symptoms with your headache(s), seek medical attention right away:

  • A change in the frequency or severity of your headaches
  • Intense pain that is unusual for you
  • Pain in the head that increases when you move, cough, or sneeze
  • Worsening head pain
  • Personality changes, confusion, or new memory deficits
  • Worsening head pain
  • Personality changes, confusion, or new memory deficits
  • Slurring your words
  • Fever (100.4 F or above)
  • Neck pain and/or stiffness
  • You are 50+ and have just started getting headaches
  • Redness and pain around the eyes
  • Headache(s) that start after an injury or blow to the head
  • You have cancer, are going through chemo, or have an immunodeficiency
  •  Headache(s) that wake you up in the middle of the night
  • You have a seizure(s) or have muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling 

What Causes Headaches?

woman upset due to headache

There are primary causes of headaches (primary headaches) – that occur without an underlying medical condition and secondary causes of headaches (secondary headaches) that are a symptom of an underlying medical condition or disease. 

What Causes Primary Headaches?

Tension headaches:

We see tension headaches most often. They're the most common cause of primary headaches in adults, mostly down to our stressed-out, busy lifestyles.

Tension headaches are usually mild and are most likely to occur during periods of intense stress when you have your foot fully down on the gas and don't take time out to rest and relax.

The most common symptom of a headache resulting from excess tension is a dull, aching pain on both sides of the head. Some patients compare it to “squeezing” or feeling like their "head is in a vice.

Unsurprisingly, neck and shoulder tension and aching pain in these areas often accompany tension headaches. In fact, tension headaches are sometimes initiated by neck or jaw (TMJ) problems.

You’re also more likely to get tension headaches if you don’t get enough good quality sleep.


If you think you have a tension headache, our best advice is to rest and relax or, better still, take a nap. Sometimes a warm bath or shower can help, too, by relaxing the muscles in the head, neck, jaw, and shoulders.

Also, make sure that you have had enough to eat/drink. When working too hard or under intense emotional stress, it's easy to forget the basics, resulting in tension headaches.

If tension headaches are a frequent problem for you, it's worth taking the time to learn a relaxation technique like yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, or Qigong.

Anything that can help to lower your stress levels. Look out for triggers too, and make changes to your lifestyle where possible. For example, 

- Does drinking coffee trigger headaches for you?

- What about working at the computer for too long without a break?

Working with a Physical Therapist to find and fix the root cause can also be helpful, especially if your headaches result from neck misalignment or other physical problems that we can easily correct. You could be suffering unnecessarily. 

Migraine Headaches: 

We see migraine headaches in the clinic less often than tension headaches. Unfortunately, migraine headaches can be debilitating and occur more frequently than tension headaches.

Most likely due to hormonal fluctuations, women tend to suffer from migraines more frequently than men, but not always.

They're certainly no less painful for men. Scientists are still unsure what exactly causes migraine headaches. However, they do believe that they are likely a result of changes to blood flow and nerve activity inside the brain.

Unfortunately, if you have a parent or sibling that suffers from migraines, there is a strong chance that you will, too, so genetics do play a role too.

They also know that the triggers are different for different people. So, dark chocolate might trigger migraines in some people but not others.

 For you, it could be the heat or the humidity of changing weather. For others, stress smells or lack of sleep. Some of the more unusual triggers of migraine headaches include:

woman with headache holding glass of red wine
  • Red wine
  • The preservatives in cured meat and fish (nitrates)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) - present in processed foods and Asian cuisine
  • Blue cheese and other aged cheeses

The symptoms of migraine headaches include:

  • Moderate to severe pain on one side of the head
  • Pain around the temple/eye on one side of the head
  • Pain that radiates to the back of the head
  • Auras, visual halos, flashing lights, and visions changes
  • Tingling/numbness in the face and/or hands
  • Nausea/vomiting
  •  Nasal congestion 
Pills and Vitamins - Close up


Doctors usually suggest preventative medicine to treat migraines, from beta-blockers and antidepressants to antiseizure medications.

They may also recommend over-the-counter pain pills like acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories once the migraine starts.

But this only works if you take them at a very early stage – at the first signs of a migraine, which is quite tricky.

However, if you suffer from migraines, we recommend you work with a Physical Therapist to find and fix any root causes that might be contributing to your migraines. 

Other common causes of headaches include:

Cluster headaches:

A severe headache that frequently occurs (in a cluster) over a short period, such as numerous headaches in one day or one month.  

Drug-induced headaches: 

These headaches are a direct result/ side effect of medication.

They range from mild to severe, but in some cases, they can be so severe that your doctor needs to change your regular medication to prevent headaches and improve your quality of life. 

If you think your headaches may be due to medication, do not stop the medication without discussing a safe tapering strategy with your doctor. 

Sinus headaches:

You will most likely feel sinus-related pain in the areas of your face where your sinuses are, such as the forehead and around the nose, eyes, cheeks, and upper jaw.

These headaches are likely to occur alongside nasal congestion and/or nasal discharge during or after a sinus infection. 

The Next Steps

If you've got ongoing or long lasting headaches it's time to get in touch with us. 

We can help you, why not schedule a free telephone consultation

Valerie Brown

Valerie Brown

Valerie Brown

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