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Headache That Worsens When Head Moves Symptoms

Headaches are disruptive, and sometimes a debilitating symptom with a wide array of causes [1]. Headaches that worsen when you move your head can interfere with work or productivity, or simply activities of daily living. We will go over some reasons why you may be experiencing this symptom, as well as possible treatments and when to consult a medical provider.

A headache that worsens when the head moves can be described by some main characteristics as well as other likely symptoms.

Characteristics

A headache is defined as pain in any region of the head. Headaches can take on multiple qualities, including:

Other symptoms

Within this spectrum of symptoms, a headache that also worsens when the head moves can signal conditions ranging from serious/life-threatening to more benign. Headaches that worsen when the head moves or body moves may also be associated with the following symptoms:

It is important to take note of the type and quality of your headache symptoms in order to get proper care. If you experience a headache that worsens when the head moves, make a prompt appointment with your physician in order to discuss the appropriate treatment measures.

Headache That Worsens When Head Moves Causes

Though the specific cause of most headaches is not well understood, it is thought that headaches happen when there is increased activity or dysregulation of pain-sensitive structures in the head such as blood vessels, muscles, tissues surrounding the brain, and even teeth [1,2]. Headaches can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary. This distinction is important because primary and secondary headaches have different causes. Getting the right diagnosis from your physician is pivotal to receiving the appropriate treatment and care.

Primary Headache

A primary headache is a headache that is due to the headache condition itself and not due to another cause or underlying condition. Many times, these types of headaches are related to certain triggers such as:

  • Stress: Things in your life that are causing stress or lack of sleep can easily trigger headache symptoms that worsen when the head moves.
  • Diet: Beverages such as caffeine and alcohol can trigger primary headaches. Moreover, dietary insufficiencies such as skipped meals or dehydration can also result in headaches that worsen upon movement.

Secondary Headache

A secondary headache is a headache that is present because of another condition or underlying disease. Many conditions can cause headache symptoms.

  • Pressure: When an injury or medical condition causes pressure to increase inside the skull, severe headaches that worsen with movement can occur. Increased intracranial pressure (ICP) is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can spread to injure the spinal cord as well as the brain and its structures [4]. On the other hand, decreased intracranial pressure (intracranial hypotension) can also result in headaches that worsen with movement. This is often due to theleaking of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain or sometimes after a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) [3].
  • Inflammatory: Infections and inflammation of any of the structures in the head (sinuses, ear, nose, etc.) can result in secondary headaches that worsen with movement. These headaches worsen the most when moving the head/body forward. They often resolve once the underlying infection or inflammatory condition is treated.
  • Post-traumatic: Falls, injury, and other traumatic events that can result in concussions can also result in post-traumatic headaches. These headaches, sometimes called post-concussion syndrome, can last for weeks to months after the initial injury. These headaches may be associated with dizziness, loss of concentration or memory and worsening upon movement.
  • Medication-induced: If you already have headaches and take headache medication too often, your pain can recur more often. When headache medication backfires, the medical term is "rebound" or "medication-overuse" headache.

8 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced headache that worsens when head moves. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Tension Headache (First Onset)

    Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache. It is pain or discomfort in the head and/or neck. It's often associated with muscle tightness in these areas. This condition can occur as little as once a year (infrequent) but as often as more than 15 days per month (chronic). The cause of tension-type headaches is not clear.

    Tension headache symptoms usually resolve within a few hours but can last up to a week. However, if this particular episode is unusually severe or debilitating, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, nausea or vomiting, moderate headache, loss of appetite, mild headache
    Symptoms that always occur with tension headache (first onset):
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with tension headache (first onset):
    photo and phonophobia, throbbing headache, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.New Migraine

    Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.

    Migraine symptoms may resolve within a day or two, but the condition can come and go for a year or more. If any particular episode is unusually severe or does not respond to your customary treatments, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, fatigue, nausea, mild headache, headache that worsens when head moves
    Symptoms that always occur with new migraine:
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with new migraine:
    fever, diarrhea, productive cough, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Sinus Headache

    Sinus headaches are very common. When compared to a normal headache, this pain is generally around the eyes, sinuses, and upper cheeks.

    A few days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, headache that worsens when head moves, facial fullness or pressure, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, sinus pain
    Symptoms that always occur with sinus headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with sinus headache:
    fever, being severely ill, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, drooping eyelid, wateriness in both eyes, headache resulting from a head injury, severe headache, unexplained limb pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Exertion Headache

    An exertion or activity-related headache occurs as a result of strenuous activity. This type of headache is often triggered by exercise.

    Within 1 day

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, headache with a pressing or tightening quality, headache near both temples
    Symptoms that always occur with exertion headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with exertion headache:
    vomiting, double vision, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

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  5. 5.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Cluster Headache (First Attack)

    It seems that your headache could represent a first attack of a cluster headache. A cluster headache is a type of headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks occur regularly for 1 week to 1 year. The attacks are separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Cluster headaches may be confused with other common types of headaches such as migraines, sinus headache, and tension headache.

    Each attack can last from 15 min to 3 hours and occurs from once every other day up to 8 times per day. Cluster periods usually resolve in a few weeks to months but can last up to a year.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, severe headache, nausea, throbbing headache, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache (first attack):
    severe headache, new headache
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Headache That Worsens When Head Moves Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Treatment options can be categorized as those that can take place at home, and if you are unable to find relief, a few other options may be suggested by your medical provider.

At-home treatments

Since primary headaches that may worsen with movement are often trigger-related, you may be able to combat your symptoms by trying the following at-home remedies and lifestyle changes:

  • Decrease stress: Reducing stress is much easier said than done, but taking up activities such as yoga or meditation can give you the tools to help deal with life's stressors in healthy ways.

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Replacing beverages such as caffeine or alcohol for water can go a long way in helping to reduce headaches.

  • Get adequate sleep: A good night's rest is the brain's way of recovering each day in order to work well the next. Your brain can manifest its exhaustion and lack of recovery in the form of headaches that may worsen with movement of the head.

Medical treatment

You should always see a medical professional for headaches that worsen with positional changes, especially if the above suggestions do not help alleviate symptoms. This might be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires professional attention such as increased intracranial pressure. Your physician may discuss the following treatment options:

  • Treat pressure changes: In situations of increased ICP, depending on the severity of the increase, treatment options include using medications to reduce swelling or placing a shunt to drain extra fluid or blood. In situations of intracranial hypotension, treatment begins conservatively by treating pain and trying to increase pressure by replacing lost volume.
  • Anti-inflammatory: If your headaches are the result of inflammatory conditions, your physician may prescribe antibiotics or other anti-inflammatory medications to combat your symptoms.
  • Medication adjustments: In the case of medication-induced headaches, your physician may change your medication or reduce the dosage of the current medications you take.

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if the following occur

You should seek medical attention immediately if you experience an abrupt, severe headache, or a headache with the following symptoms as this can indicate meningitis or a stroke [5].

FAQs About Headache That Worsens When Head Moves

Here are some frequently asked questions about headache that worsens when head moves.

Why does my headache become worse when I move it from a supine position (laying down) to an upright position?

In a situation of low intracranial pressure, the brain is "floating" in a lower volume of cerebrospinal fluid. Since there is less cerebrospinal fluid, moving the head to an upright position allows gravity to push the brain downward, and the brain presses against the pain-sensing structures at the base of the skull [4,6].

Why does my headache feel better when I lay down?

The reason for this is the converse to why a headache worsens when standing up [6]. In situations of intracranial hypotension, lying down allows equilibration of the cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. Lying down lessens the effect of gravity on the skull and allows the brain to better float in the CSF, lessening the amount of pressure on the pain-sensitive nerves and structures at the base of the skull.

Is low intracranial pressure an emergency?

Low intracranial pressure caused by leaking of cerebrospinal fluid is a serious condition and necessitates prompt follow-up. If you experience symptoms of nausea, vomiting, changes in vision or concentration, seek medical attention immediately.

How long will my symptoms last?

Symptom duration will depend on the specific cause of your symptoms. For example, in the case of an inflammatory etiology for a positional headache, usually, the headache symptoms will resolve with resolution of the underlying etiology.

Will I need imaging to diagnose my headaches that worsen with movement?

If you are experiencing a severe headachealso associated with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, changes in vision and other systemic signs, you will get imaging (usually first with a CT scan) in order to better characterize your condition.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Headache That Worsens When Head Moves

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Have you lost your appetite recently?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our headache that worsens when head moves symptom checker to find out more.

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Headache That Worsens When Head Moves Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced headache that worsens when head moves have also experienced:

    • 9% Throbbing Headache
    • 9% Nausea
    • 5% Headache
  • People who have experienced headache that worsens when head moves had symptoms persist for:

    • 53% Less Than a Day
    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 7% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced headache that worsens when head moves were most often matched with:

    • 33% Tension Headache (First Onset)
    • 33% New Migraine
    • 33% Sinus Headache
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. The complete headache chart. National Headache Foundation. National Headache Foundation Link
  2. Headache: When to worry, what to do. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published June 2009. Harvard Health Publishing Link
  3. Spinal headaches. Mayo Clinic. Published April 26, 2018. Mayo Clinic Link
  4. Increased intracranial pressure (ICP). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link
  5. Schwedt TJ. Headache "red flags": When to see your doctor. American Migraine Foundation. Published July 8, 2015. American Migraine Foundation Link
  6. Cullan AM, Grover ML. 56-year-old with positional headache. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2011;86(6):e-35-8. NCBI Link
  7. Dangra VR, Sharma YB, Bharucha NE, Deopujari CE. An Interesting case of headache. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology. 2011;14(2):130-2. NCBI Link