Headache Location Meanings & Headache Anatomy: What the Location of Your Headache Can Tell You

Headaches are one of the most commonly faced ailments by a majority of the world. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of adults have experienced a headache at some point in their lives. Though quite a common problem, headaches also happen to be symptoms of underlying diseases and can be important in the diagnosis of these conditions. Another integral aspect of headaches is their location, headache location meanings are essential in understanding the type of headache and determining its cause. 

You need to remain educated about the location types of headaches as they can be instrumental in determining potentially serious conditions. In this article, we detail what different headaches mean, the differences between migraine vs. headache, and also provide a 'types of headaches' chart to highlight their most salient features. 

What are The Different Types of Headaches?

Though there are nearly 150 identified forms of headaches, they can be broadly classified under two categories: 

  • Primary Headache: These are the types of headaches that are not caused by any underlying medical condition. Primary headaches can be caused by factors such as stress, sleep deprivation, hunger, alcohol, exhaustion, or a psychosomatic response. The most prevalent types of primary headaches are: 
    • Tension headaches 
    • Migraines 
    • Episodic headaches 
    • Chronic headaches 
    • Cluster headaches 
    • Chronic daily/New daily persistent headaches 
  • Secondary Headaches: These headaches are often the result of underlying medical conditions. Headaches are symptoms of these conditions and understanding the headache location meanings can help diagnose their causative disease. The most common types of secondary headaches observed are: 
    • Hypertension headaches 
    • Traumatic headaches 
    • Allergy-related/Sinusitis headaches
    • Hormone-related headaches 
    • Infection-associated headaches 
    • Medication overuse headaches 
    • Caffeine headaches 
    • Exertion/ Exercise-associated headaches

Headache Types & Their Features

Here are some of the most common headaches and what they entail: 

  • Primary Headaches
    • Tension Headaches: 
      • A dull aching sensation that takes over the entire head or a band around the head, and results in tenderness and sensitivity over the neck. 
      • Tension headaches are caused by a psychosomatic response and are also called psychosomatic headaches. 
      • The pain can radiate to the neck and the adjoining areas of the shoulders; regions most commonly associated with stress. 
      • Over-the-counter painkillers can help, however, when tension headaches are a regular occurrence or take up a chronic form, a detailed medical examination is the best course of action. 
    • Migraines
      • Migraines are characterized by a pulsating pain on one side of the head, often arising from deep within. 
      • They severely limit your ability to perform basic tasks as the pain is severe, throbbing, and can last between a few hours to several days. 
      • A prominent difference between a migraine vs. headache is that the former can cause a severe sensitivity to light and sound. 
      • People suffering from migraines report seeing flashing auras, lights, stars, and even blind spots in their visual field. 
      • Due to certain similarities, people also tend to get confused between the characteristics of a COVID-19 headache vs. migraine. 
      • While COVID-19 headaches too tend to have a pulsatile nature, they tend to occur on both sides of the head, while migraines occur only on one side. 
    • Episodic Headaches
      • Episodic headaches last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. 
      • Episodic headaches occur regularly. 
    • Chronic headaches
      • Unlike episodic headaches, chronic headaches are more consistent and occur over a longer period. 
      • They can even last for several days at a time and require a systematic treatment approach to manage the pain and other symptoms associated with these headaches. 
    • Cluster Headaches
      • Cluster headaches occur in only one side of the head and are often felt within the eye socket. 
      • The pain is described as burning & piercing, and the affected side can even become slightly swollen and red. 
      • Tears from the affected eye socket and nasal congestion on the same side are also notable features of cluster headaches. 
      • These are episodic, and each episode lasts between a few minutes up to a couple of hours. Patients commonly report up to four episodes a day.
    • Chronic Daily Headaches
      • These headaches are seen in people that have no prior history of other headache-related conditions. 
      • Chronic daily headaches have a sudden onset and can last for nearly three months, before being resolved. This is followed by a symptom-free period. 
      • It occurs on both sides of the head and does not respond to over-the-counter pain medication. 
  • Secondary Headaches
    • Hypertension headaches 
      • These headaches indicate dangerously high blood pressure levels. 
      • The pain is pulsatile and worsens with activity. 
      • It’s important to visit a doctor immediately if you have a history of high blood pressure and suffer from a severe, uncontrollable headache on both sides of your head. 
    • Traumatic Headaches
      • These headaches occur following a severe head injury and can last for up to a year after the trauma. 
      • Their locations and implications are similar to those of tension headaches and migraines. 
    • Allergy/Sinusitis Headaches
      • These headaches are the result of an allergic reaction, or may occur due to full sinuses. 
      • The pain is focused around the sinus areas on the face. 
      • Patients often report symptoms like pressure in the forehead and make statements like, ‘When I cough, my head hurts.' These are common indicators of a sinusitis headache. 
      • Nasal decongestant sprays are often helpful in relieving these headaches by clearing out the mucus in the sinuses. 
    • Hormone-related Headaches
      • These headaches are reported in women. 
      • Several patients get confused when it comes to symptoms of migraine vs. headache, especially when suffering from this type of condition. 
      • Given that both migraines and hormone headaches are more prevalent in women and have similar symptoms, these headaches are also called menstrual migraines. 
      • They can occur because of pregnancy, menstruation, and even due to birth control pills altering hormone levels. 
  • Substance-associated Headaches
    • Substances such as caffeine, certain medications, and other stimulants can affect the rate of blood flow to the brain. 
    • The sudden increase or decrease in the rate of the consumption of these substances can cause headaches. 
    • Quitting these substances cold-turkey can also result in similar conditions. The best solution to rid oneself of these pains is by tapering off the quantity of the substance gradually. 
  • Infection-related Headaches
    • These headaches arise from infections of the head and neck. 
    • A stiff neck associated with a headache warrants immediate medical attention. 
    • Infections such as meningitis, encephalitis, and space infections of the face can lead to severe and radiating headaches. These are serious conditions that need to be addressed in a hospital. 
    • Viral infections like influenza can also cause headaches that are centred around the forehead and the sinus regions. 
    • If you experience a runny nose, weakness and headache, you will need an influenza test to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Exertion/ Exercise-related Headaches
    • Headaches can be caused by an increased rate of blood flow to the head. 
    • Exertion headaches are caused by intense bouts of physical exercise such as weight lifting, running, or strength training. 

Types of Headaches Chart

Below are listed common headache location meanings, so you know where to look the next time you encounter an episode. 

Headache Location Type(s) of HeadacheManagement

The entire head

Substance-associated headache, exertion headaches, hunger, tension headache, traumatic headache, and fatigue. 

Visit the doctor if the pain is too severe or if episodes occur more than 5 times a month. 

One side of the head Migraine, hormone-related headachesAvoid triggers and certain OTC painkillers. However, sustained migraine episodes require pain management therapy.
One side of the head and around the eye socket Cluster headacheMedical consultation followed by pain management.
A band around the headTension headacheOver-the-counter painkillers and relaxation techniques.
Face and the front portion of the headAllergy/Sinus-related headachesAntihistamines and nasal decongestants can address pain caused by allergies and sinusitis.
Back of the head and neckPsychosomatic headaches, arthritis-associated headaches Medical assessment and management.

Be sure to keep track of your symptoms and don’t forget to refer to the above chart when in doubt. If you suffer from episodic headaches that occur more than 15 times in a single month, it is likely that the condition has developed into a chronic one. Take note of the intensity and don’t forget to contact your doctor immediately if a headache is unbearable.