You’ve no doubt heard the terms tension headache, sinus headache, and migraine headache, but did you know that there are broader categories of headaches than those? Do you care? Well, you should. The broadest category helps narrow down the cause, and therefore the fix for your headache. It also helps determine whether you need a doctor vs a massage therapist.
There are 3 main categories:
Primary Headache – These headaches are due to the headache condition itself and not another underlying cause.
Secondary Headache – This a very broad category of headaches that are a symptom of an underlying structural problem, injury, or illness.
Cranial Neuralgia, facial pain, and other headaches – This is the catch-all category for everything else. Some experts place these in the secondary headache category, and in future posts I will as well. I only mention it here so you’ll be aware that some experts use this third category and some don’t.
Which Headaches are Considered Primary?
This category consists of:
Tension headache – This is the most common form of primary headache and affects more women than men. The World Health Organization states that 1 in 20 people in the developed world will suffer from daily tension headaches.
Migraine headache – This is the second most common primary headache. Migraine headaches affect both children and adults. While children, boys and girls are equally affected. However, once puberty hits, females are much more likely to experience migraine headaches than men are.
Cluster headache – Thankfully cluster headaches are rare. Men are more commonly afflicted with cluster headaches, but women and children can get them as well.
Some people have frequent headaches whereas others only have occasional headaches, but no matter the frequency, all primary headaches have the ability to impact your quality of life. It’s important to note that although some tension headaches can be debilitating, that doesn’t make them a migraine. It’s also important to know that you can have more than one type of headache at a time: simultaneous tension/migraine is a fairly common complaint in my practice.
Which Headaches are Considered Secondary?
The most common secondary headaches are:
Dental pain from infected teeth
Medication overuse headache (formerly called a rebound headache)
Substance abuse/hangover headaches
Headaches associated with illnesses such as meningitis or encephalitis
Post traumatic headaches, such as after a head injury
Cervicogenic – meaning it’s caused by or related to an underlying neck condition such as degenerative disc disease
What is a Cranial Neuralgia Headache?
That’s kind of a mouthful so let’s break it down. Cranial = head. Neur=nerve. Algia = pain. So… Cranial neuralgia means pain from one of the 12 nerves that innervate the head, face, and neck. You may have heard of the most common of these… trigeminal neuralgia. It can cause intense pain in the face.
Remember, not everyone agrees whether there are 2 or 3 categories, so cranial neuralgia headaches are often classified as secondary headaches.
In the coming weeks, I’m going to do a deeper dive into the various types of headache starting with tension headaches so stay tuned. If you have any questions about headaches, especially tension headaches, let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them in an upcoming blog post.