29 Ways to Describe a Headache

Because I suffer from chronic, unrelenting headaches, I have characters in my stories who do. And, I like to see how other authors describe this sort of pervasive, life-altering pain. How do they effectively communicate a misery truly only understood by other people who get them? For example, I had a neurologist once tell me that he worked with headaches so I could too. Clearly, the unrelenting monster in his skull had chewed through his bedside manner.headache

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).

Here’s my list:

  • It all made her head ache
  • The world’s spinning and I want to vomit, but yeah, I’m okay. His head pounded, sharp and heavy.
  • Migraine threatening at the back of his head
  • Head throbbing
  • A headache ground into her temples
  • Concussed by a headache
  • Awakened with a monster headache
  • Said without interest
  • Jane rested her head in her hands and began to rub her temples, trying to massage away the headache.
  • He laughed. The pain in his head flashed hard and hot.
  • If only her head would stop pounding.
  • She closed her eyes, fighting off nausea. Trying, even through the pain, to remember how she could have arrived at this strange, dark place where nothing seemed familiar.

  • Stomach heaved
  • Wave of nausea
  • A headache flared
  • The headache, a familiar electric pain behind his eyesbusiness man with problems and stress in the office
  • Hangover gathering strength like an oncoming storm
  • a throbbing headache was developing beneath his temples
  • muscle in his right cheek flexed
  • Living with her headache
  • My headache had returned
  • Thrumming/buzzing/purring/vibrating/drumming headache behind her temples
  • She winced, brows furrowed tight with pain
  • A needling headache behind his right ear
  • The rhythm of blood throbbing in my temple
  • Skull pounding
  • Stick hot needles in her eyes
  • temple twitched
  • She finally got to the edge of her headache
  • Head felt like it was filled with straw
  • her heartache had gone numb
  • belligerent hangover
  • aspirin bounced off his headache like it was armored

More descriptors:

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57 Ways to Describe Talking in a Novel

55 Interesting Intel Devices

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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41 thoughts on “29 Ways to Describe a Headache

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  5. Ooosh, and eina as we say here in South Africa .. the ‘eina’ word that is. I’ve heard that a half a baby aspirin taken daily can help prevent migraine?

    All very descriptive phrases thank you!


  6. “Head full of straw.” That’s vivid imagery. I love when descriptions paint an unmistakable picture. I’d actually never thought about giving a character a chronic headache. It’s true to life and distinguishes that person. Great idea!


    • I didn’t know that. Interesting. I have rarely felt that far gone from mine, though I do remember one afternoon, as we were having a pool party, and I couldn’t get out of bed… Thank god for wonderful husbands.


  7. Great list as usual Jacqui. I do like the detail touch of giving characters real life problems. My characters have all suffered headaches at one time or another, though I haven’t written a character with chronic migraine.


  8. My first husband suffered from migraines, so all of these terms sound familiar. I find it interesting that you’ve cursed your characters with this known malady. I’m a celiac, but so far, I’ve not been tempted to so afflict any of my “people.” My sister says I should, even if only to raise awareness. I am not so sure.


  9. As a teenager I popped Darvon like they were jellybeans. Sometimes not more effective. The one nice thing about me being old is that the migraines from which I suffered all my earlier life (starting at age 7!) rarely make an appearance now – thank heaven. I guess hormone depletion has some good aspects.
    Jacqui, I wish I could offer you something substantive to cure your headaches, but all I can suggest is to try the acupuncture again, or maybe the acupressure. Drink lots of water of course, but you probably do all the right things anyway. I know you eat consciously. Any chance that the headaches are related to the medication you take?
    Thanks for the list of headache descriptions – this is one area I think I have down pat – unfortunately.
    BTW: Darvon is no longer available, and I’d stopped taking them years before before I got pregnant. The headaches continued but I turned to milder anodynes, eventually finding that drugs geared to ending migraines worked for me.


  10. I suffer too, and I tend to share the pain with my characters! I like this list, but then I like all your lists because they get the creative juices flowing. Sometimes, if I’ve had a particularly bad migraine I get a little dramatic and I let my characters go to town on the descriptions – using humour to blow the cobwebs away!


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