Published January 15, 2020 By Adam Lowenstein

Headaches are a common occurrence among adults of all ages. The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 50 million adults worldwide are affected by some type of headache disorder, in which painful symptoms occur regularly. A wide variety of nervous system conditions are encompassed within the term “headache disorder.” The two most common types of pain include tension headaches and migraines. Here, we discuss how to identify which type of headache you may have.

Tension Headaches

It has been estimated that approximately 42% of adults around the world are affected by tension headaches, a primary headache disorder. A primary headache is not resultant from a medical condition. This type of headache may occur in episodes occurring up to 15 days a month. Chronic tension headaches may also occur, happening more often than not and causing the scalp to feel sore. An indicator that you may have tension-type headaches is that the pain feels like a band of compression around the head.

Tension headaches are often caused by ACTUAL tension in the muscles of the head and neck, which compress the nerves in the back of the head and neck or in the forehead.  This tightening of the muscles puts pressure on the nerves in these areas and those nerves become irritated.  Releasing these nerves from the muscles that are squeezing them, as Dr. Lowenstein does with his nerve decompression surgery, prevents these nerves from becoming irritated.  While your life may still provide triggers for tension, the trigger points where your headaches stem from are no longer an issue, and headaches are no longer a significant factor in your stress.

Tension headaches may be triggered by several different factors, including:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Hunger
  • Bruxism (clenching the jaw)
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Stress
  • Poor posture
  • Strain on the neck
  • Lack of sleep


Migraine headaches are known for being intense. The discomfort of a migraine headache can be disruptive to a person’s life, requiring them to retreat to a dark and quiet location. In addition to telltale pain that usually occurs on one side of the head, a migraine may cause:

  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain behind one eye or ear
  • Pain at the temples
  • Seeing flashes of light
  • Temporary vision loss

Headaches of any kind can become problematic when they occur frequently and intensely. While it is beneficial to identify the type of headaches that are occurring and their triggers, many people achieve the best treatment results when they discuss their symptoms with a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of headaches. In some cases, prescription medication or injection therapy such as Botox provides lasting relief from chronic headaches.

Migraine surgery can help both migraine headaches as well as tension headaches.  The term “migraine surgery” is misleading, as this nerve decompression surgery can help with many different headache diagnoses.  Learn more about headache surgery and how we can help you find the relief you need. Call our Santa Barbara office at 805.969.9004.

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