Here are several treatments that may help to make your primary headache go away (headaches not symptomatic of an injury or underlying medical condition) without taking analgesic and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
Of course, you deserve them, but treatments that pamper your mind and body also may go a long way toward relieving the stress and tension that contributes to your headaches. Here are a few potential ways to alleviate your headaches:
You can inhale or apply essential oils—such as lavender, peppermint and basil—directly to your skin. Although natural, don’t underestimate the potency of essential oils. If you are pregnant or have other medical conditions, talk to your doctor before using essential oils treatments. And always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil before applying them to your skin.
A hot shower—as warm as you can stand it WITHOUT burning yourself—may help loosen tight muscles in your neck and back and improve blood flow.
Ice Packs and Cold Compresses
While the hot shower relaxes muscle tension, cold packs help relieve inflammation and reduce headache pain.
Find a dark, quiet room and just relax—away from the lights and sounds that can trigger a headache and extend its duration. It’s a time-tested method to reduce and eliminate headaches.
If you’ve indulged a bit too much, sneaked a few of your trigger foods, or just grabbed a meal on the go, it’s time to improve your diet and eating habits.
Ease Stress All Over
Stress reduction is a recurring theme in headache prevention and relieving pain. These methods focus on the mind-body connection:
While deep body massage helps reduce stress levels, for some people a facial massage can actually tackle headache pain head on.
Studies suggest yoga relaxes stress and may even reduce the frequency of headaches.1
Acupressure and Acupuncture
While acupressure may help relieve tension and associated headache pain, studies find that acupuncture is an effective headache preventative for some patients.2
A Swedish study in 2011 shows that cardio workouts (such as cycling, swimming, jogging and dancing) three times a week for 40 minutes are promising ways that reduce the frequency of headaches.3
Hydrate Your Brain
While physical activity and hot weather can increase the likelihood of dehydration, this remains a common cause of headaches in all climates and altitudes. In addition to headaches, dehydration can lead to dizziness, vomiting, fainting and, under the worst circumstances, death. To avoid dehydration, drink enough fluids so that:
- You’re never thirsty
- Your urine remains clear or light yellow
- You compensate for the diuretic properties of coffee and alcohol
When you get a dehydration headache, get out of the sun and heat. Then, slowly drink up to 32 ounces of water or fluids with electrolytes. In the most severe cases, you may need emergency care, including intravenous fluids.
Note: Secondary headaches are symptomatic of injury or medical disorder and are potentially dangerous, possibly life threatening. Contact your doctor immediately if anything about your headache seems unusual. Secondary headache symptoms may include:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Nausea and vomiting
- Intense, rapid onset, described as a thunderclap headache
- Blurry vision
Cleary, there are many ways to find relief from headaches. Stress reduction, exercise and a little pampering can go a long way. Experiment with treatments to discover what works for you. Remember, however, to check with your doctor first before trying anything new.
2 Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. “Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19160193. Accessed April 4, 2016.
3 Varkey E, Cider A, Carlsson J, Linde M. “Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: a randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls.” Cephalalgia, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3236524/. Accessed April 4, 2016.