What’s the Difference Between a Migraine and a Headache, and When Do You Need To Be Seen?

What’s the Difference Between a Migraine and a Headache, and When Do You Need To Be Seen?

Headaches are one of the most common maladies in the United States. From children to adults, most people experience occasional headaches, but when they become frequent, it can signal a headache disorder that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Many Americans suffer not just from headaches, but from migraines specifically.

Understanding how those two conditions differ can be a little tricky. What is the difference between a migraine and a headache? A few characteristics set them apart, but first, let’s look at the basics of what causes headaches in the first place.

What Happens When Your Head Hurts?

Contrary to how it feels, your brain isn’t actually “in pain” when you have a headache. The brain itself has no pain receptors. However, it is the part of the body that receives the pain messages from other areas. When nerves, muscles, and blood vessels around the head and neck tighten or swell, that disruption signals the pain you feel as a headache.

Tension headaches, in particular, indicate a tightness or inflammation somewhere around the brain or in the neck and shoulders. These are the most common type of headaches.

What’s the Difference Between a Migraine and a Headache?

Although it may seem that a headache is just a headache, there are key distinctions that set migraines apart.

Location and Type of Pain

Non-migraines, particularly tension headaches, tend to affect both sides of the head fairly evenly. You likely feel pressure all around the scalp, or in both temples. You may also feel tightness in your neck and shoulders. You may get some pain relief from massaging your neck or temples to relieve the tension.

Although there may be some throbbing pain, a sense of pressure and feeling like something is squeezing your head is more common with regular headaches. Headache pain tends to be mild to moderate for most sufferers.

Migraines, on the other hand, tend to impact one side of the head more severely than the other and usually involve throbbing pain. Migraine headaches typically bring on moderate to severe pain that significantly affects regular daily activities.

Other Symptoms

As annoying and uncomfortable as regular headaches can be, they rarely have other major symptoms with them. Migraine headaches, however, can cause many other issues and problems for the sufferer, such as:

  • Nausea – over 70% of migraine sufferers report nausea as a symptom before or during a headache.
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound – this is one of the most common migraine headache symptoms.
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain is worse with movement
  • Experiencing an aura – this is a sensation that usually arrives 30-60 minutes before the onset of a migraine. It can include facial tingling or numbness, visual disturbances, or strange smells and sounds.

Triggers and Causes

Tension headaches, as their name implies, arise from tension, pressure, or tightness in the nerves and muscles around the head and neck. This pressure may come from stress, poor posture, injury, or overuse. Sometimes there are trigger points in the neck, shoulders, or back that lead to these headaches.

Non-migraines may also occur with sinus infections, colds, influenza or other illnesses that lead to inflammation. Usually, these headaches subside as the illness runs its course.

Those who suffer from migraine headaches know that many different things can trigger them:

  • Monthly cycles and hormone changes – the majority of migraine sufferers are women.
  • Food sensitivities
  • Bright lights
  • Loud noises

difference between a migraine and a headache

When Should You Seek Help?

About 38 million American adults suffer from migraines, but only about half of them seek diagnosis and treatment. If you are experiencing migraine symptoms, it is worth scheduling a visit with your doctor. Aside from pain relief, a provider can make sure there is not a more concerning underlying cause for the headaches and/or migraines with appropriate clinical evaluation. This may involve imaging, special tests, or laboratory blood work, or some combination of these.

If any of these apply to you, it’s time to seek medical help for treatment and symptom control:

  • You experience frequent attacks, up to several times per month.
  • Your migraines and symptoms control how much you can live your daily life.
  • You frequently have to cancel or reschedule activities due to migraines.
  • You need pain medication twice a week or more for headache relief.

If you feel like you’re under the control of your migraine headaches and unable to enjoy your daily life on a regular basis, it’s time to let a medical professional help you to get some relief.

Treatment Options

As with most medical challenges, there is no one-size-fits-all solution or treatment plan for migraines and other headaches. The following options have proven successful for many patients:

  • For tension headaches: Massage, relaxation, and stress reduction techniques are very beneficial in preventing and stopping tension headaches. In addition, limiting screen time and getting enough sleep are essential to stopping this pain in its tracks. When needed, over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help alleviate headaches. Another effective treatment option is the use of trigger point injections. Your doctor can talk with you about this form of therapy to see if it is right for you.
  • For migraine headaches: In addition to the options above, your doctor can prescribe both preventive medications and drugs that help to stop a migraine once it starts. One of the best techniques to avoid migraines in the first place is to keep a food journal so you can identify any potential food triggers. Many patients can prevent migraine headaches simply by eliminating certain foods. Some patients also find relief through yoga, meditation, and hypnosis. In addition, for migraines that tend to be cyclical and hormonal, addressing any hormonal imbalances can help prevent the onset of migraine headaches.

The team at Camas Swale strives to help you live your best life possible. If headaches and migraines are stopping you from doing that, reach out today to make an appointment.

With a comprehensive list of services, Dr. Armitage provides the care you need at every stage of your life. From family practice to sports physicals to specialized treatment plans, we seek to treat the whole patient with compassion and excellence.

We can’t wait to hear from you and look forward to partnering with you on your health journey. Contact us today.

What You Need to Know About Trigger Point Injections for Pain

What You Need to Know About Trigger Point Injections for Pain

Chronic pain and pain management are increasingly in the medical limelight in the United States. Recent research indicates that just over 20% of American adults, or roughly 50 million people, live with chronic pain. That is a staggering number. There are many treatment plans available for pain management, and trigger point injections are proving to be an effective choice for many patients.

Typically, medical practitioners consider someone to be in chronic pain if they report six months or more of daily or almost daily pain. Sometimes these situations arise from injuries, and the symptoms eventually subside with time.

But for many Americans, persistent pain is a way of life due to conditions such as autoimmune disorders, injuries that don’t heal properly, or joint problems related to aging. Patients who have undergone treatment for cancer may also have lingering chronic pain as a side effect from various drugs and procedures.

One study reports that pain costs the United States over $560 billion each year. Between medical visits, prescription costs, alternative therapies, mental health treatment, and lost productivity, pain takes an enormous financial toll on our society. And with an aging population and an increase in chronic conditions, that dollar amount is likely to rise.

What is a Trigger Point?

Patients who are in pain often experience trigger points. Commonly called “knots,” trigger points are hypersensitive spots where a muscle has shortened and tightened up, forming a lump. These lumps can be as small as a pea or as big as a walnut, and patients often can feel them under the skin. Pushing on these points can be very painful but can also result in some relief if the muscle releases back to its normal position.

Trigger points can be active or latent. Active trigger points not only create pain at the site, but they also cause referred pain and fatigue in other areas of the body if they push on surrounding nerves. Tension headaches, for example, are a common result of knots in the neck and shoulders pressing on nearby nerves. Tinnitus and TMJ pain also can arise from referred pain.

Latent trigger points, however, usually are asymptomatic and do not cause referred pain. Latent trigger points typically do not require treatment until they become active and cause pain.

Although they can happen in any muscle, trigger points tend to develop most frequently in the neck and shoulder area, as well as in the legs and lower back. These painful knots and lumps can come from an acute injury, overuse, or a chronic condition such as fibromyalgia. Another disorder, myofascial pain syndrome, can lead to multiple trigger points resulting from repetitive use and stress.

How Does a Trigger Point Injection Work?

When dealing with acute or chronic pain, many doctors and patients turn to over-the-counter and prescription medications. Some may try massage, acupuncture, relaxation techniques, or physical therapy as well.

When other pain management options do not bring relief, trigger point injections (TPI) can be a great choice. And for patients and who prefer to avoid medications, this course of treatment is a good alternative.

During the procedure, a doctor will palpate the area to find the precise location of the trigger point. The doctor then inserts a needle directly into the knot to try to release the muscle tension.

The needle may contain a saline solution, a steroid, a local anesthetic, or a combination of these. Sometimes the practitioner uses a dry needle technique in which there is nothing in the injection. This dry needling is often the first course of action in TPI and is also useful for patients who have allergies to medications or who prefer to avoid their use.

Depending on where the trigger point is, you may be sitting or lying down during the treatment. If you have multiple trigger points, your doctor may be able to provide injections in all of them during one session.

For otherwise healthy patients, TPI is a quick procedure with minimal side effects. Some patients have temporary redness and tenderness at the injection site, but more severe reactions are rare. After the trigger point injection, you can resume most normal activities, although it is best to wait a day to engage in any strenuous exercise.

If you are feeling ill or fighting an infection, it is best to wait until you feel well before receiving trigger point injections. Patients with bleeding issues or who are on anticoagulants should discuss treatment with their doctors to determine if TPI is safe for them.

How Effective Are Trigger Point Injections?

For trigger points that develop from an acute injury, one or two TPI treatments often bring long-term relief. When dealing with chronic pain conditions or damage resulting from repetitive motion or stress, however, more procedures may be necessary.

TPI can be a highly effective way to address ongoing pain from conditions that do not have a cure yet. Although patients are likely to need repeat injections in these situations, most prefer to do that rather than relying on opioids or other prescription painkillers.

At Camas Swale, we strive to help your body heal with a course of treatment that is minimally invasive and that avoids risky side effects whenever possible. Although prescription pain medications have a place and purpose, we recognize that opioid abuse is on the rise, and we take our responsibility for our patients’ safety very seriously. TPI is a valid treatment option for pain for many patients, and we are proud to offer it in our office.

Our doctor, Damon Armitage, MD, works to treat the whole person. Through family medicine, wellness checks, preventive care, immunizations, and specialized treatment options, we provide high-quality care to our Creswell community.

We support our patients in all stages of their lives and all areas of their health. In addition to routine healthcare, we provide support and management for endocrine and cardiovascular issues, depression and anxiety, and chronic asthma and allergies.

Give us a call today to schedule an appointment. We look forward to meeting you and being of service to you on your health and wellness journey.