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Determining Headache Causes Based on the Location of Pain

Medically reviewed by Nicole Aliling, MD · Neurology · Centre Médicale Internationale

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 24, 2021

Determining Headache Causes Based on the Location of Pain

One of the most common questions that people have about their headaches is “What’s causing my headache based on location?’ This is mainly because different types of headaches affect different parts of the head.

Knowing what’s causing your headaches is important because it can help you figure out how to treat it, or prevent it.

Headaches: Types, Causes, Remedies

What’s Causing My Headache Based on Location?

Headaches usually affect either a person’s blood vessels, muscles, or nerves in the head. This means that it can either be a condition affecting those parts directly, or a symptom of another underlying condition.

For the most part, you can identify what’s causing your headache based on its location. So it’s a good idea to be aware of what types of headaches affect which part of your head.

Here’s what you need to know.

Stabbing pain around one eye

Have you ever experienced a sharp, stabbing pain around one eye, and wondered to yourself, “What’s causing my headache based on location?’

It most likely could be signs that you are suffering from cluster headaches.

Cluster headaches are headaches that can cause severe pain for people suffering from it. Sometimes they are even called ice pick headaches because of the pain they cause. Thankfully, these types of headaches are relatively uncommon.

Cluster headaches usually appear suddenly, and last for a few days or weeks, then disappear.

Cluster headaches also affect more men than women, and is the only type of headache to do so.

Painkillers usually help deal with the symptoms of cluster pain.

Pain at the base of the skull

Experiencing pain at the base of the skull usually means that you are suffering from occipital neuralgia. This results from irritation or inflammation of the nerves that run from your upper back into your neck and skull.

Sometimes the pain caused by this type of headache can go up to your eye, and sometimes affects your cheek and forehead.

The symptoms of this headache is usually compared to a sharp pain, or an electric or burning sensation. It usually occurs in short bursts that only lasts for a few minutes.

Occipital neuralgia is usually mistaken for a migraine, but they are very different types of headaches entirely.

Getting a massage, or taking pain medication can help relieve pain caused by this type of headache.

Neck and head pain

Pain in the neck and head are usually caused by cervicogenic headaches. These headaches are characterized by general pain in the head and the neck, as well as a reduced range of motion, pain around the eye, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea.

This type of headache can be caused by the following:

  • Compression of the spinal canal
  • Arthritis
  • Concussions
  • Herniated disc
  • Trauma in the neck

Treatment usually involves figuring out the main cause of the headache and addressing it.

Pain in your temple and forehead

Headaches that usually cause pain around a person’s temples or forehead are usually caused by tension headaches.

These are mild headaches, and cause a feeling of tightness in the front of the head, or a band of tightness around the temples. Sometimes, pain or stiffness in the back can also accompany this type of headache.

Tension headaches are usually caused by stress or tension, as the name implies. People who sit for long hours, or have a bad posture when working are also more prone to having tension headaches.

For the most part, tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medication, and sometimes it can go away on its own.

Getting a massage, physical therapy, or even acupuncture and acupressure can also help with recurring tension headaches.

Taking the time to relax and lower your stress levels can also help prevent tension headaches.

One-sided pain

If your headaches usually affect just one side of the head, then it could probably be a migraine.

Migraines are probably the common type of headaches, and affect over 1 billion people worldwide.

Migraines are usually characterized by intense pain on one side of the head, as well as a ‘pounding’ sensation.

Migraine Triggers to Avoid

It can also have the following symptoms:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in vision before the headache
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Not everyone who experiences migraines experiences these symptoms however, so it can sometimes be difficult to know if a person is suffering from a migraine or not.

One characteristic of migraines is that they have triggers. Sometimes migraines can be triggered by bright lights, foods, drinks, stress, weather, etc.

So if you have a recurring headache that’s usually triggered by something, then it could possibly mean that you are suffering from migraines.

Migraines can be treated with over-the-counter medicine, but more severe cases would need stronger medications. If you frequently suffer from severe migraines, it would be a good idea to talk to your doctor to find out how you can manage it.

Pressure or pain in the sinuses

Sinus headaches are headaches that affect a person’s sinuses. This means that it usually affects the area near your cheekbones, forehead, or nose.

The sensation can feel like a pressure or pain in your sinuses, and sinus headaches are usually triggered by another condition.

The usual culprit for sinus headaches is an allergic reaction, but changes in weather can also cause a sinus headache. In some cases, a sinus infection could be the reason why you are experiencing a sinus headache.

Treatment for a sinus headache usually involves over-the-counter medication, and avoiding the triggers. But if it is caused by a sinus infection, then the best way to treat it would be to treat the infection first. 

If you feel any of these kinds of headaches, it would be best to consult your doctor to know the proper treatment and to prevent them from becoming worse.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Nicole Aliling, MD

Neurology · Centre Médicale Internationale

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 24, 2021

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