This month, we’re exploring that awful pain in your head. There are several types, and we will start with identifying each and trying to understand why they happen.

What and why?

Headaches are categorized into two groups: Primary and secondary. It actually helps to explain secondary, first. Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying issue (like an infection, head injury, brain bleed or tumors) and are the symptom. Take away the underlying issue and your secondary headache would go away. That’s how I used to remember it best in school.

Primary headaches are not caused by underlying disease or structural problems. They are the problem.

Let’s break this down further >

Secondary headaches

Again, we’ll take a look at secondary, first. As stated in the intro, secondary headaches are caused by some underlying issue. There are over 150 diagnoseable types of secondary headaches. Examples include caffeine withdrawal, dehydration, medication or drug induced, injury, heart disease, infection, brain bleeding and tumors.

Primary headaches

The causes of primary headaches have yet to be discovered. However, researchers do know they start in the nerves, blood vessels, face and/or neck muscles. Triggers include certain foods, alcohol, changes in sleep habits, and stress. These headaches are categorized under three further types: Tension, migraine and cluster.


These are known for creating the feeling of a tight band around the head. Although a big annoyance and undoubtedly painful, more of the research is focused on the other two types of headaches (migraine and cluster). Scientists do theorize tension headaches may be caused by things like blood vessel spasms and over-reactive pain receptors.


Migraines are reoccurring headaches that create a vice-like sensation around the skull and can last anywhere from 4 hours to 3 days. Light auras and tingling sensations occur in 20% of cases. These sensations are caused by the attack being so intense, it overloads the brain with electrical energy which hyper-excite sensory nerve endings. Nausea and vomiting can also occur.

Johns Hopkins and other resources suggest migraines have something to do with fluctuating levels of chemicals like serotonin or estrogen:

” One aspect of migraine pain theory explains that migraine pain happens due to waves of activity by groups of excitable brain cells. These trigger chemicals, such as serotonin, to narrow blood vessels. Serotonin is a chemical necessary for communication between nerve cells. It can cause narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body.” For more about this, check out the article, here > How a migraine happens.


Cluster headaches cause burning, stabbing bursts of pain behind only one eye which leads to visible redness, a constricted pupil and dropping eye lid. A cluster headache pattern suggest that abnormalities in the body’s biological clock (hypothalamus) play a role. Unlike migraine and tension headache, a cluster headache generally isn’t associated with triggers, such as foods, hormonal changes or stress (

What if it’s hard to tell?

Sometimes it’s confusing to identify primary vs secondary. The acronym SNOOP was made to help pinpoint what type of headache someone is experiencing. You can learn more about that, here >

There you have it. All the different types of headaches. More to come this month on the TCM diagnosis and how VAMT can help. I’m also working on finding some interesting videos…stay tuned to see what I dig up. For now, feast on this: Ted ED: What causes headaches? Dan Kwartler

Also, If you ever find yourself relating to the Topic of the Month, and would like to share tips, tricks or your personal journey, please email me at

Have a beautiful week and I’ll see you soon!
Rachel the acupuncturist

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