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Head Pain

What the Location of Your Pain Can Tell You


Updated March 29, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

There are different types of headaches, and where your pain occurs can be a good starting point for figuring out which type is affecting you.

Sinus Headache

Sinus headaches result from sinusitis, or the inflammation of the mucous membranes within the sinus cavities.

Pain and pressure is usually located in or around the forehead, cheeks, and nose. Tooth pain is a common symptom, as well. Tapping or pressure on the skin over the sinuses will usually reproduce the pain. Another tip-off that your headache is a sinus headache? You also experience nasal drainage or post-nasal drip. Sinus headaches will affect you until you have addressed the underlying infection or condition causing the sinus inflammation.

Cluster Headache

Thankfully, cluster headaches are fairly uncommon. These are among the most painful of all headaches.

The pain from a cluster headache is located behind one eye. Other symptoms that may accompany these headaches include a drooping or swollen eyelid, red and watery eye, and runny nose on the affected side. The pain from a cluster headache peaks from 5 to 10 minutes after it starts, lasting up to a few hours in most cases.

Tension Headache

Tension-type headaches are fairly common and can be caused by a variety of things. They get their name from the rubber band-like tension they cause around the head, which radiates to the neck.

Soreness in the scalp, neck, and shoulders commonly accompany tension-type headaches. The duration of a tension-type headache varies widely between individuals, lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to several days. In many cases a tension-type headache will stop when the precipitating factor, or cause, is removed.

Migraine Headache

Migraines affect nearly 30 million people nationwide, with women experiencing them more often than men.

The pain is usually unilateral (on one side of the head), and is often described as throbbing. Patients may experience auras and other symptoms, such as nausea and/or vomiting, phonophobia, or photophobia. Migraines may last from 4 to 72 hours in some cases.

As with all medical conditions, be sure to discuss your headache symptoms with your health care provider. She can help determine which type of headache you have, whether diagnostic tests are necessary, and what treatments would be most effective. She will also make sure that something more serious than a common headache is not the source of your pain.


Kantor, Daniel. "Medical Encyclopedia: Cluster Headaches" Medline Plus. 10 Sept. 2006. National Institutes of Health. 9 December 2009. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/print/ency/article/000786.htm.

Levine, Howard. "Headache and Sinus Disease." American Rhinologic Society. 2008. American Rhinologic Society. 9 December 2009. http://www.american-rhinologic.org/patientinfo.headache.phtml.

Migraine. National Headache Foundation. Retrieved: December 9, 2008. http://www.headaches.org/education/Headache_Topic_Sheets/Migraine

Millea, Paul J. "Tension-Type Headaches." American Family Physician 66.51 Sep. 2002 26.

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