Depending on the type of head pain you have the head pain causes will vary. It is easier to know how to distinguish the difference between these types of head pain first by looking over head pain symptoms and pinpointing which symptoms you are experiencing and matching those symptoms to one of the four types of head pain. Keep in mind, it is possible to have two types of head pain happening simultaneously as some may trigger another.

All types of head pain are the body’s response to something that is happening. While not all head pain has a direct known cause, our body is made to send us signals to warn us something is not right. Below you will find known and believed causes of the four types of head pain: Tension headaches, migraine headaches, cluster headaches, and sinus headaches. Along with these causes are a list of triggers that could spark the attack or worsen your head pain while the attack is occurring.

Tension-Type Head Pain Causes

Tension-type headaches are caused by muscle stress, or muscle contractions, located around the head and neck region. These contractions are a response to mental and physical stress and can be caused by the following:

  • Head Injury
  • Activities
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Head Staying in one Position for Long Periods of Time. This includes looking at a computer screen and driving.
  • Cold Temperatures

Other things that may trigger tension-type head pain are:

  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Eye Strain
  • Dry Eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Caffeine
  • Poor Posture
  • Emotional or Physical Stress
  • Cold, Sinus Infection, or Flu
  • Jaw Clenching or Teeth Grinding
  • Certain Foods and Food Additives – Foods and additives such as monosodium glutamate (also known as MSG and used for enhancing the flavor in Chinese food), chocolate, cheese, onions, diary, caffeine, peanut butter, nuts, avocado, banana, citrus, bacon, hot dogs, salami, and cured meat may trigger your tension-type head pain. Foods that contain amino acid tyramine can trigger head pain as well. Foods that contain amino acid tyramine include aged cheese, red wine, smoked fish, figs, chicken livers, and some beans.
  • Medications
  • Skipping Meals
  • Arthritis
  • Sleeping in an Abnormal Position

Tension-type head pain can occur during a migraine or when having sinus pain as well which triggers a sinus-tension headache.

Migraine Head Pain Causes

Migraine head pain causes originate from changes within the brain stem and the interactions it has with your trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is a major pain pathway that is responsible for the sensations and motor functions within the face, such as chewing and biting. Another migraine head pain cause may be due to imbalanced brain chemicals, including serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate the pain in your nervous system and your serotonin levels drop during a migraine attack. As your serotonin levels drop, there is a chance the trigeminal nerve will release neuropeptides that travel to the brain’s meninges (the three membranes that line the skull and vertebral canal) – resulting in your migraine pain.

Other migraine head pain causes could be from the following:

  • Medications
  • Physical Injury
  • Stress

Migraine head pain triggers include:

  • Food and Food Additives – Just like the tension-type head pain, foods and food additives can contribute to your migraine. Aged cheese, salty foods, sweeteners, and processed food are among the list that can trigger a migraine.
  • Drinks – Highly caffeinated or alcoholic beverages (especially wine) can trigger a migraine.
  • Sensory Stimuli – The sun glare, bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells can trigger a migraine.
  • Environmental Changes
  • Hormonal Changes
  • Wake and Sleep Pattern – Having an inconsistent wake and sleep patterns can bring about a migraine.

Cluster Head Pain Causes

Cluster head pain causes are not associated with foods, stress, or hormonal changes as migraine head pain cause are. While it is unclear what the cluster head pain causes are, researchers found there is more activity in the hypothalamus during a cluster headache attack. The hypothalamus is located at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland that oversees the release of hormones, controlling the body temperature, thirst, and hunger. This area of the brain could release chemicals that cause the blood vessels to expand and release greater amounts of blood flow to the brain which could be causing the headache.

Although cluster head pain causes do not include any triggers from foods, alcohol may act as a trigger to making your cluster headache attack worse, but alcohol is only capable of making the cluster headache worse if you consume it during the attack.

A sudden rise in temperature could also be one of the cluster head pain causes, as it could interrupt your body’s temperature. Those who have cluster headaches typically have abnormal levels of melatonin and cortisol during an attack. Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in how you sleep. During the day, lower levels of melatonin are released and once it begins to get later in the day, the amount of melatonin released increases. Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone that works with certain parts of the brain to control mood, fear, and motivation (also known as a built-in “alarm system”). If the “alarm system” stays on due to constant stress, it could trigger headaches.

Sinus Head Pain Causes

Believe it or not, allergies do not cause headaches; however, allergies can cause you to have sinus congestion that leads to head pain. If you have a sinus head pain, using decongestants or antibiotics may cause the condition to get worse. The sinus that becomes inflamed prevents mucus from draining (this becomes one of the sinus head pain causes). A sinus may become inflamed due to an infection, allergic reaction, or a tumor.

What to do About Head Pain

Ironically, some medications recommended for head pain can actually cause head pain and surgery is not always successful – with many patients reporting little to no improvement in their condition; this is why we believe it is important to look to natural relief as a first option before we try things that can become relatively expensive and negatively impact our body’s natural system to take care of itself. See what to do about head pain to learn about natural ways to find relief and heal the body.