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Throbbing pain

Migraine throbbing pain symptoms: an introduction

The most common symptom among migraine sufferers is that their head throbs.

About 85 percent of people with migraines suffer from throbbing pain. Unlike other symptoms, this percentage is the same in both men and women with migraines. Those who have throbbing pain typically have more severe migraine pain than those who do not have pulsating pain. Throbbing pain is one of the four migraine symptoms the International Headache Society uses to define migraine. IHS considers an episode a migraine if the person has two of the following four qualities:


How is a migraine different from a regular headache?

Pulsating, throbbing pain is also one of the main symptoms that distinguishes migraines from regular headaches or tension headaches.

This type of head pain is often described as:

  • Throbbing
  • Dull aching
  • Pulsating (also called pulsatile pain)
  • Pounding
  • Beating
  • Often occurs at the temples, front, back of one or both sides of the head

This migraine pain can occur in all or just a portion of the head. It may begin in one area and spread to others or throb all over the head.

The poundingcan become worse with certain movements such as:

  • Coughing
  • Bending
  • Straining
  • Other physical activities

This pulsating sensation may be a result of increased sensitivity in the brain, which then worsens when the migraine sufferer is physically active.

Although historically the belief has been that vascular changes are causing throbbing pain associated with migraine, experts continue to debate this theory and the true origin of throbbing pain. The relationship between heart rate and throbbing pain has also been brought into question in the most recent research.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Last reviewed: February 2014.
  1. Migraine and Tension Headaches, California Medicine, Friedman 1957
  2. Commentary: All that is obvious is not clear: What is the origin of throbbing pain in migraine? Available at:
  3. J. Mo et al. Does throbbing pain have a brain signature?. PAIN 154 (2013) 1150–1155.
  4. Ahn, A. On the Temporal Relationship Between Throbbing Migraine Pain and Arterial Pulsehead. Headache. October 2010. ISSN 0017-8748 doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2010.01765.x