What is a Primary and Secondary Headache?

Article by John Miller

What is a Primary and Secondary Headache?

The International Headache Society classifies headaches as Primary or Secondary.

Primary headaches are not related to any other problem and include migrainestension-type headaches and cluster headaches.

Secondary headaches. Caused by an underlying problem and can include a post-whiplash headacheneck headache, jaw headache and drug withdrawal headache. “Ice cream headache” is a secondary headache caused by extreme cold within your mouth. In other words, a secondary headache is a symptom of something else being wrong rather than the cause itself. Treatment for a secondary headache involves treating the source, e.g. loosen some stiff upper neck joints or stop eating ice cream!

Mixed Headache-Migraine Types

You can simultaneously suffer one, two or more types of headache or migraine.

One type may cause another or overlap with another. For example, a painful neck can cause increased muscular tension, which will increase your blood pressure. In this scenario, you would be suffering a neck headache + a tension headache, + a migraine!

Migraine

In our experience, finding the primary source of your headache or a migraine is the key to successful management.

What Else Could Be Causing Your Headaches or a Migraine?

Your physiotherapist and doctor will be able to assist with your diagnosis and headache source. Sometimes specific tests can confirm your diagnosis. On other occasions, it can be by process of elimination.

Unfortunately, there is a sinister cause of your head pain in a small percentage of patients, which requires investigation. These can include brain tumours, aneurysms, meningitis and other systemic illnesses.

Your physiotherapist or doctor may recommend that you complete a headache or migraine questionnaire that will assist in your headache classification, diagnosis and treatment. Once you complete these questionnaires, please present your physiotherapist or doctor’s results to help with your diagnosis and treatment.

At PhysioWorks, we are interested in assessing, diagnosing, and treating neck, stress, and jaw headaches.

Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for an accurate diagnosis and treatment pathway.

More info: Headaches & Migraines

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