The Science of Headaches

We all experience headaches from one time to another. But what exactly is it? Whether you're feeling stressed, sick or just hit by a sudden storm of pain, headaches can really inhibit your everyday activities. Here's the science behind headaches.

The most common type of headache are what physicians call "tension-type" headaches which feel like a giant rubber band squeezing your head, creating soreness in your head, neck and shoulders. 


Head pain experienced during a headache occurs from activation or irritation of structures that sense pain in the skin, bone or neck joints and even sinuses, blood vessels or muscles. Neck problems can be a large proponent in causing head pain, with pain from the neck and back of the head often radiating over the top of the head to an eye. 

Inflammation or sinus infections which often occur from an allergic reaction is an uncommon cause of recurring headaches. Researchers from Massachusetts have actually found that 25-30% of migraine sufferers report nasal symptoms during their typical migraine episodes and almost 98% of people who believed they had sinus headaches were actually experiencing a migraine. 

Those who suffer from headaches may actually have migraines where just one side of your head pulses and throbs. Their vision would also become impaired a bit and nausea can set in. If one is experiencing these symptoms, it's important to quietly lie down, relax and call your doctor. 

Scientists aren't 100% sure what's causes that splitting sensation during these episodes. 

What research has suggested is that overactive or problematic nociceptors, a nerve that communicates pain or another feeling of discomfort to the brain. The central nervous system in the body, (our brain and spinal cord) extend from our peripheral nervous system. Neurons connect everything like building blocks in our body, from our fingertips to the inner workings of our brain. If you touch a hot stove or get a massage, the sensory neurons tell your body to feel pleasure, pain and everything in between.

Nociceptors aren't actually rooted in the brain; they live in the nerves and muscles all over the body. During a headache, what actually is causing pain are the muscles in your head and neck as well as the brain's membrane, called meninges. The brain itself doesn't actually hurt, it's everything around it.

Anything that causes stress can trigger headaches such sleep deprivation, stress at work, anxiety and being overworked. Physical stresses like poor posture and grinding your teeth can also bring on a headache.