What causes headaches?

Headaches are one of the most common chronic conditions people face today. Part of the reason for the prevalence of headaches is that they can be caused by so many things; some studies have put the number of possible causes of headaches at over three hundred different conditions!  Chronic headaches can range from a minor annoyance or distraction to a completely debilitating pain that prevents people from being able to cope with daily activity, seriously jeopardizing their quality of life.

While headaches might feel like they originate from deep within your head, the brain itself actually does not contain any pain receptors. Therefore, the pain people experience when they suffer from headaches is not technically coming from inside the brain. Rather, the source of the pain is damage or disease to the surrounding neurological structures, like the skull, blood vessels, connective tissues, muscles, nerves, or sensory organs of the head. This structural damage can be the result of injury, disease, or inflammation. When the nerve cells in and around the brain that sense pain receive pain signals from these damaged structures, the brain interprets the pain as coming from within the brain itself, even though that is not possible.

Types of headaches

Headaches are classified into two mains groups: primary headaches, which are caused by direct damage to the nerves in the head, and secondary headaches, which are caused by damage in other areas of the body or by traumatic injury or illness. There is an additional type of headache, known as idiopathic headaches, which arise from seemingly out of nowhere with no clear distinguishable cause. Some common examples of primary headaches are migraine headaches, cluster-type headaches, and tension-type headaches. Migraines are recurring headaches that bring intense, throbbing pain felt near one eye that can last for hours or days. They generally arise from a single cause, although that cause is not always easy to identify. Cluster-type headaches are very similar to migraines, but they do not last as long and can return far more frequently than migraines, even multiple times per day. Tension-type headaches are generally felt in the front or back of the head and are somewhat less intense. However, they can be equally disruptive to daily life, especially when they recur on a daily basis.

Headache symptoms

The symptoms of headaches vary widely from person to person. Some people may experience a dull, aching sensation in the top or back of the head while others experience a sharp, stabbing pain right behind the eyes. While some people often experience additional physiological symptoms like nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity, others’ symptoms are limited just to a headache. Finally, some people’s headaches come and go, while others’ are an almost constant presence in their lives.  


If you suffer from chronic headaches, one of the most important things you can do is understand what triggers your headaches and learn to avoid these things. Common headache triggers include stress, alcohol, exposure to intense light and sound, dehydration, vigorous exercise, and smoking. Once you come to understand what triggers your headaches, one of the most powerful things you can do to prevent headaches from returning is to avoid these triggers. One of the most effective ways to understand your triggers is to keep a diary chronicling your headaches, their intensity, and the things that could have triggered them. Tracking these headache flare-ups and their possible causes will help you uncover trends in what causes your headaches.


Diagnosing the source of chronic headaches can be very difficult. If you suspect your headaches may be chronic and require medical intervention, the first step towards a diagnosis is scheduling an appointment with a physician whose practice is focused on diagnosing and treating headaches. At your appointment, the physician will complete a full review of your individual and family medical history; conduct a thorough physical examination; and order and review any necessary diagnostic tests, such as X-Ray, MRI or CT scans. The results of these examinations and diagnostic tests will help your physician pinpoint the cause of your headaches and develop a treatment plan aimed at helping you control them.

Why Choose Pain Consultants?

If you are experiencing the signs and symptoms of chronic headaches, Pain Consultants of West Florida can help alleviate your pain and get your life back on track. We offer a wide variety of treatment options for chronic headaches, including:

  • Physical Therapy – a combination of stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular exercises aimed at strengthening and stabilizing the neurological structures, which can help relieve pain and pressure on the nerves that cause headaches.
  • TENS unit – stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and uses low-dose electrical currents, delivered through pads (electrodes) placed directly on the skin above the site of structures that cause your headaches.
  • Non-opioid medications
  • Greater occipital and sphenopalatine nerve blocks – depending on the source of your headaches, nerve blocks can be a very effective tool for eliminating headaches; the most common nerves that require this type of treatment are greater occipital and sphenopalatine nerves.
  • Botox injections – this common cosmetic treatment can be used to treat headaches caused by strained muscles during tension headaches and migraines.
  • Please refer to other specialties as needed.

The Ultimate Guide to Headaches

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