The Difference Between Tension Headaches and Migraines

Figure out what kind of headache you have so you can fix it fast.

Woman With a Headache
elenaleonova / Getty

If you're constantly suffering from headaches but don't know where to start when it comes to finding relief, start at the root of the issue and figure out what kind of headache you have. Check out the symptoms and triggers below to find out how you can relieve the pain quickly.

Tension Headache

Feels like: Mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head; you may feel a tight band of pain around your head, a dull ache, or pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Common Triggers: Stress, anxiety, muscle strain, skipping meals, or lack of sleep.

Fix it Fast: Over-the-counter (OTC) meds like aspirin or ibuprofen can stop the pain fairly quickly, or try a warm compress. For chronic stress, mindful treatments like meditation or a massage may also help. Or try a trigger point technique from Peeke: Place your index fingers at the base of your neck where the neck muscles meet your trapezius, or on either side at the base of your skull. Press gently but firmly for 10 to 30 seconds.


Feels like: Pain that ranges from moderate to severe; may be pulsating. It may affect only one side of the head and can also cause nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light or sound. It can worsen with daily activity.

Common Triggers: Stress, too much or too little sleep, excessive caffeine, weather changes, menstrual cycle, light or sound, low blood sugar, and certain foods like wine and aged cheese.

Fix it Fast: OTC pain relievers can help, but for severe migraines you may need an Rx. Just don’t wait too long to take it. “Migraines tend to build, so catch them as early as you can,” advises Emad Estemalik, section head of headache medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. But be careful about taking the painkillers too often. “Taking these more than two or three times a week can lead to rebound headaches,” he adds.

For access to exclusive fitness advice, interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!