If you suffer regular tension headaches or migraines, here are some suggestions to consider first:
Consider Relaxation Therapy
Lowering your stress levels may reduce the frequency of these types of headaches. If you want a mind-body approach, try yoga, meditation, deep-breathing exercises and massage. Mild to moderate cardio exercise, such as swimming, cycling, walking or jogging, also may benefit you.
Because dehydration is a common cause of headaches, keep hydrated. Drink water when you exercise and throughout the day—especially on hot days and when you’re working outside in the sun.
Beyond the above, remedies for headaches typically fall into two categories: relief and prevention. You can try them with any primary headache although they may work better with a specific type of headache.
Headache Relief Remedies
The following remedies may help relieve headache pain by 1) reducing inflammation and pressure, 2) relaxing muscle tension, 3) shortening a headache’s duration or, in a few cases, 4) tricking the brain to relax and ignore the pain. As with any treatment, it is always best to consult your physician first!
- Capsaicin Cream—Capsaicin, the active ingredient of cayenne pepper, can also block nerve pain signals. Just apply a small amount of capsaicin cream inside your nose—on the same side of the head where your pain is located. Your doctor may suggest this treatment for relief from cluster headaches. Use it under his or her guidance.
- Peppermint Oil—Peppermint oil smells good and provides cooling relief, and it’s an effective means to help headache patients.1 It helps open the sinuses so more oxygen gets to the bloodstream and helps to regulate blood flow by controlling the muscles in the walls of your arteries.
Apply peppermint oil along your hairline and/or temples. When a change in serotonin constricts blood vessels, peppermint oil may help expand blood vessels. If you buy concentrated, essential oil, dilute it in a carrier oil (such as sweet almond or apricot kernel oil) before applying it to your skin.
Consult with a doctor before using this treatment. Medical professionals usually will not recommend it if you’re pregnant or have an inflamed gallbladder or reflux disease.
- Ginger Tea—Fresh ginger reduces inflammation, which helps to reduce pain. You can make ginger tea by cutting a piece of ginger, about a square inch, peeling the skin and crushing it. Place the crushed ginger in a mug, add boiling water and drink.
- Basil Oil—Basil is the fresh, pungent herb popular in Italian and Thai cooking. The oil is also an effective muscle relaxant, which makes it a particularly useful remedy for tension headaches. For best results, use certified organic basil essential oil. Before applying to skin, dilute the basil in a carrier, such as sweet almond or apricot kernel oil. Basil oil may also be used as aromatherapy. It’s not recommended for pregnant women or patients with a history of seizures.
- Flaxseed—It’s the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed that help relieve headaches caused by inflammation; it may also help to reduce the frequency of migraines. You can consume flaxseed oil or the seeds (whole or ground) by simple adding it to foods.
- Buckwheat—Rutin, a plant pigment found in buckwheat, has antioxidant properties that act as anti-inflammatories to reduce headache and migraine pain.
- Cold Compress/Hot Water Foot Bath—While it’s not clear why this works, some people find relief by placing a cold compress on the back of their neck and soaking their feet in warm water.
- Acupressure/Acupuncture—The traditional Chinese practices that rely on intra-body connections to treat conditions and ease pain by stimulating nervous system and releasing hormones are often effective migraine treatment. Some of the research questions acupuncture effectiveness2; however, these treatments may ease your sensation of pain and elevate your mood.
- Lavender Oil—This oil may reduce pain in tension headaches and migraines. You should use lavender oil as aromatherapy (add about three drops to three cups of boiling water) or apply it topically. Do not ingest; only use it outside your body.
Headache Prevention Remedies
- Feverfew—This supplement is an herb and part of the sunflower family that’s been a popular migraine therapy since the 1980s. It reduces nerve pressure, perhaps by counteracting the serotonin that’s telling blood vessels to contract and helping to dilate blood vessels. For some people, it is effective in preventing migraines when used daily.
- Dietary Adjustments—Especially in the case of migraines, certain foods and beverages can trigger headaches. By tracking eating behavior, you may be able to identify your triggers. Common trigger foods include: MSG (used as meat tenderizer); nitrates in bacon, smoked meats and fish and hot dogs; tyramine, an amino acid in red wine; aged cheeses; artificial sweeteners; and unfortunately, chocolate.
- Chiropractic Adjustment—Tension headaches often respond quickly to spinal manipulation that releases muscle tension in the neck and reduces irritation of the nervous system. While more research is needed, a chiropractic adjustment may also help to prevent migraines.3
- Supplements—Among the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that may help reduce or prevent migraines and headaches in general, those most commonly recommended include: riboflavin (B2), magnesium, Vitamin B12, and butterbur.
If you don’t have a history of tension headaches, migraines or cluster headaches and a severe headache comes on suddenly, seek immediate attention, especially if it’s accompanied by nausea, weakness or dizziness). Otherwise, test out various remedies for the treatment and prevention of headaches under your doctor’s guidance.
2 Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. “Acupuncture for tension-type headache.” Cochrane Database System Review, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19160338 . Accessed April 4, 2016.
3 Chaibi A, Tuchin PJ, “Chiropractic spinal manipulative treatment of migraine headache of 40-year duration using Gonstead method: a case study.” J Chiropr Med., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3259914/. Accessed April 4, 2016.