Science Questions with Surprising Answers
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Dr. Christopher S. Baird

What part of the brain is hurt when you get headaches?

Category: Health      Published: August 30, 2013

By: Christopher S. Baird, author of The Top 50 Science Questions with Surprising Answers and Associate Professor of Physics at West Texas A&M University

Public Domain Image, source: NSF.

Most headaches have nothing to do with the brain being damaged or strained. There is more to your head than your brain. Surrounding your brain are meninges, bones, muscles, skin layers, lymph nodes, blood vessels, the eyes, ears, mouth, nose and cavities called sinuses. Most headaches are caused by strain or pressure buildup in these other areas and not in your brain. Brain tumors and strokes can cause headaches, but they usually cause other more serious symptoms such as unconsciousness, seizures, paralysis, and vision loss. For people with tumors or strokes, headaches are typically the least of their concerns. And even when a brain tumor does cause a headache, it does so indirectly by applying pressure to the skull and other parts of the head. In fact, the brain itself lacks pain receptors, so it is literally impossible to have pain in your brain. Surgeons can perform operations on the brain without numbing it for this reason. The brain is the place where we process and experience bodily sensations, so all pain ends up getting experienced in the brain. But all pain originates outside the brain. Sometimes a headache seems to be coming from deep within your head, but that is just a psychological/physiological trick where intense pain seems to spread out and come from other places than where it is really occurring. There are hundreds of types of headaches, all with different causes. For generally healthy people, the most common sources of headache are tension and head colds.

Topics: brain, brain tumor, headache, pain, stroke