In this Article

What is Head Pain?

Head pain can be any pain or discomfort in the head or face and can have many different causes, including injury. Headaches are the most common cause of head pain. Some other causes of head pain might include nerve damage, muscle damage, or problems with blood vessels.

Headaches can be either a dull throbbing pain, an ache, or a sharper pain. Headaches can vary in location. There are three general types of headaches:

  • Tension headaches. These headaches are often due to tight muscles and may be related to stress.
  • Cluster headaches. These cause head pain on one side and pain in and around one eye. Tearing and a droopy eyelid are also possible.
  • Migraines. These are a more severe kind of headache, causing intense pain and in some cases nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light.

Headaches are classified as primary and secondary. Primary is a headache that is the only symptom and is usually not related to another condition or injury. Secondary headaches are head pain caused by another condition or injury.


The symptoms of head pain can extend beyond just pain felt in the face and head. Some headaches or head pain have the following symptoms:

  • Pain in one or both sides of the head
  • Dull pain or squeezing pain
  • Feeling of pressure in the head or behind the eyes
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pulsing or throbbing sensation

If you’ve recently injured your head or had a blow to the head you should contact your doctor immediately or seek medical help if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Stiff neck
  • Fever
  • Convulsion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Double vision
  • Loss of consciousness

Any of these symptoms can be a sign of a more serious problem, including concussion.


The most common cause of head pain is headaches. Many people experience headaches frequently without any known cause or triggering event. In some cases, headaches can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as the following:

  • Inflammation [in-fluh-MAY-shun] or abnormalities in the blood vessels in the brain
  • Infections
  • Brain tumor
  • Intracranial [in-truh-KREY-nee-uh l] pressure
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis [men-IN-jai-TIS]

There are some risk factors that make it more likely you’ll experience head pain and headaches, including inherited factors. Women are more likely to experience headaches, as are people with mental illness like anxiety or depression. Overuse of caffeine or side effects of medication can also be contributing factors in head pain.

When to See a Doctor

Persistent or severe head pain can be a sign of a more serious problem, so contact your doctor if your headache worsens significantly or if you don’t experience relief from symptoms within a day or two. And if you’ve recently had a head injury, follow your doctor’s guidance about when to seek out medical care according to your symptoms. Any changes in consciousness, swelling, confusion, or fever could indicate brain injury.

Diagnosis and Tests

Your doctor may use a variety of methods to assess the cause of your head pain, including any of the following tests:

  • Physical exam and medical history
  • Blood tests
  • Sinus x-rays
  • MRI
  • CT scan
  • Spinal tap

Your doctor will determine which tests you need based on your symptoms, overall health, age, and preferences.


The treatment for head pain can vary depending on the cause of the head pain. For injuries, rest and pain medications may be recommended.

For migraine sufferers, treatment may be more intense, including some combination of the following approaches.

  • Rescue medicines. These address pain, like ibuprofen [ay-byoo-PRO-fen].
  • Abortive medicines. These medications will block the nerve signals that are communicating pain.
  • Preventive medicines. These daily medications can prevent the onset of symptoms during triggering events.

Your doctor may also recommend alternative approaches like resting in a dark, quiet room.


If you experience head pain because of headaches, you may want to take some of the following steps to prevent headaches:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat regularly
  • Practice stress management techniques
  • Get a massage
  • Take preventative headache medicine

If your head pain continues, worsens in severity, or does not respond to treatment, consult with your doctor.

An injury to the head can also cause head pain, so take precautions such as wearing helmets during sports.