What Type of Headache Do You Have?

Feb 16, 2023
misc image
What Type of Headache Do You Have?

Commuting on the subway, mentally prepping for your day ahead and double checking your schedule. Suddenly, you have these weird flashes of light in your visual field. You did not mind it much and continued working so that you could actually get out from work on time today. A few minutes went by and you gradually feel the pain on one side of your head. Realizing that it's another migraine attack, you stopped whatever you are doing and canceled all the things you planned for the day because you know based on experience that the pain might last until tomorrow. 

Migraine is just one of the many kinds of headaches that almost everyone has experienced. Some headaches bring mild discomfort and go away after a short rest while other headaches persist for a longer time even after taking pain medications. Are you usually experiencing headaches? Do you know what causes it and what type of headache is it? Can your pain be addressed by over-the-counter medications? Are you looking for better ways to address it?


Traditional Chinese medicine has been treating headaches for the past thousands of years. Traditional Chinese medicine has addressed different headaches through diet changes, herbal medications, acupoints, and acupuncture. Knowing more about your headache could increase your chances of learning how to get rid of it. Knowing the triggers could also help you avoid headaches from even occurring. 

There are many ways to categorize headaches. It can be differentiated by the type of pain, cause, etc. Distinguishing it by location is one of the easiest ways to understand the headache you might be experiencing. Take note that the headaches mentioned in this article are just some of the many types of headaches. 


Neck and at the back of the head

If you are experiencing tension-like pain that gradually radiates from the upper back to the neck that sometimes reaches the temples and forehead, you might have a cervicogenic headache. This is a secondary headache that is caused by a different structure such as the joints and nerves of the cervical spine. The pain is accompanied by limitation of motion on the neck and often occurs on one side. It can also be caused by degenerative conditions or traumatic injuries. 

Acupuncture and heat therapy can temporarily relieve the pain from a cervicogenic headache but it is best to consult your PCP first to address the structure/s causing the headache.


Around the head

Pain around the head is often associated with tension headache. The discomfort this brings is usually described as having a tight band wrapped around your head. It is also described as dull and pressure-like pain. Sometimes, the neck may also feel painful with this type of headache. It is often caused by tight muscles around the head and neck. The pain may last from a few hours to days, but this type of pain is often responsive to OTC pain medications, releasing and stretching the head, neck, shoulder and upper back muscles, and relaxation exercises. 

From the Chinese medicine perspective, this disharmony falls under the wind-dampness pattern. Acupuncture on the tight tissues and cupping to release the muscles and suction the fascia can help in addressing this headache. You may also benefit from heat therapy such as infrared lamp to relax the muscles that are causing the tension. You may prevent this headache from occurring by scheduling an appointment regularly with your acupuncturist especially when you already feel tightness in your neck and upper back. 


On top of the head

One of the least common locations of headache is on the top of the head. Also known as a vertex headache, this kind is described as pounding, dull pain that is concentrated on the very top of the head.

It is often associated with liver disorders because based on Chinese medicine, the liver has an internal branch that reaches the top of the head. If there is a liver-blood deficiency,  it can be associated with exhaustion, poor vision, hair loss, and increased menstrual blood. If it is related to the hyperactivity of Liver-Yang, the common symptoms involve irritability and dizziness. 


One side of the head

A moderate to severe pounding and throbbing pain that is usually localized on one laterality of the head is often associated with migraine. Take note that it's not always only on one side. Some people experience migraine that radiates around the head. Some migraines have warning signs and symptoms like constipation, mood swings, and cravings days before the pain occurs. Another distinguishing feature of migraine is the presence of auras a few minutes before or during the migraine attack. Auras are often visual disturbances described as blind spots and or flashes of light. Pins and needles on the leg and arm can also be felt. During the attack, sensitivity to light, nausea, and vomiting could also be experienced. There are many possible triggers for migraine. It is best to talk to your doctor for a complete medical history and to know the best course of treatment because migraine highly varies from person to person.

Most of the people with migraine have a liver-yang rising pattern or phlegm retention pattern of disharmony depending on its root cause. Emerging studies have shown that acupuncture can be used as prophylaxis for people with migraines. 


One side of the head including the eye

Pain on one side of the head and back of the eye or around the eye socket is the distinguishing symptom of cluster headache. This headache is sometimes accompanied by signs of a droopy eyelid and stuffy nose on the side of the pain. The discomfort lasts around 20 minutes to a few hours which is shorter than a typical migraine but the severity is often worse than that of a migraine. Its occurrence is also more often than migraine wherein you may have around three cluster headaches per day. There are a lot of possible causes for this type of headache and even hormonal changes can cause this. 

For most women, this might be a qi stagnation pattern because this disharmony often occurs during your preovulation and ovulation stages. Since this type of headache is recurrent, the best way to address this is by getting to its main cause to stop the cycle. It is best to schedule a consult with an acupuncturist and certified herbalist so you can discuss the best treatment plan for your cluster headache. Most likely, you will be given an herbal concoction. Diet and lifestyle changes will also be recommended to address the root of your cluster headache.


Face and forehead

If you are experiencing dull pain that is focused on the face, particularly on the cheeks, nose, and forehead, you may have a sinus headache. It usually occurs together with a runny nose, swollen face, and itchy ear which you experience when you have allergies or sinus infection. 

Wind-heat pattern can be treated by boosting your immune system using acupuncture and herbs that will decrease your inflammation. Ozone insufflation is another quick and painless alternative to decongest your sinuses. NYC Acupuncture + Wellness offers ozone insufflation treatment. Book an appointment with us to know more.

Seek immediate medical care if you are experiencing headaches with any of the following:

  • Sudden debilitating headache described as "the worst headache of your life"
  • High fever
  • Confusion or any symptoms of change in the level of consciousness
  • Vision loss

NYC Acupuncture + Wellness offers natural and less invasive ways of treating headaches. Book an appointment to have a consult with Dr. Ting Wu.



Types of Headache. Stanford Health Care (SHC) - Stanford Medical Center. (2018, October 11). Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/brain-and-nerves/headache/types.html 

Zhao, L., Chen, J., Li, Y., Sun, X., Chang, X., Zheng, H., Gong, B., Huang, Y., Yang, M., Wu, X., Li, X., & Liang, F. (2017). The long-term effect of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(4), 508. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.9378