General | February 17, 2022

Headaches: What’s The Difference Between Tension, Cervicogenic and Migraines?

Dr Phillip Audley-OSTEOPATH-Bachelor of Health Science/Bachelor of Applied Science (Osteopathy) – RMIT

Tension type  

Let’s start off with the most common type of headache: Tension, or tension-type headaches. These can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Typically, they present like a tight band across the front of the head, and the cause is primarily seen to be stress related, whether that be emotional, work related or mental stressors. Other common factors include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue, or
  • Poor diet

Pain medication such as ibuprofen and paracetamol may help reduce some symptoms. However, it is best to seek advice from your GP or pharmacist regarding medication usage.

Lifestyle changes are often needed as a long-term management approach. Also, relaxing muscles, increasing joint range of motion and strengthening neck muscles are all effective ways of decreasing symptoms. Luckily, osteopathy has a holistic approach to help find underlying causes and aggravating factors, and can help educate sufferers on how to avoid triggers and reduce re-aggravation in the future.   


Here we have a very common headache with a mechanical trigger or cause. Cervicogenic headaches are associated with tightness in the neck muscles as well as in the shoulders and at the base of the skull. The headache itself usually presents in the neck, wrapping around the side of the head and can even be felt behind the eyes and worsened by neck movements  

These headaches feel like a constant pain through the neck and can involve restriction to movements of the neck, including rotating from side to side. They can often be relieved by stretching through these tight muscles.  

Due to their mechanical nature, this is the most common headache osteopaths treat. A range of osteopathy techniques have been proven effective in decreasing muscle tension, including soft tissue massage, stretching, mobilization and manipulation. In addition to manual therapy, we also provide education, self-management and rehabilitation strategies to help stay on top of your pain.  


Typically the worst of all headaches. Migraines can often be debilitating and leave you feeling exhausted and fatigued. These headaches often begin with an aura and sensory changes, and typically affect one side of the head.  

Common characteristics of migraines include sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, as well as a throbbing feeling inside the head.   

Treatment for migraines aims to relieve muscle tension through the neck, head, shoulders and jaw regions, with an aim of improving blood flow and circulation. By addressing posture, muscle tension and education surrounding triggers and daily factors, we focus on finding long term management and relief to restore function and mobility back to your life.

Most headache presentations are quite benign in nature. However, headaches can sometimes occur due to more serious causes, which may include an increase in intracranial pressure, and other serious causes. Fortunately, our osteopaths are all extremely well trained and are always looking for any red flags and potential serious causes of your headaches.

If you have any questions regarding headaches, please do not hesitate to contact either our Melton or Bacchus Marsh clinics.