9 Natural Strategies for Headache Relief

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Headaches are usually caused by a combination of chemical activity in the brain, nerves, blood vessels or muscles in your head and neck. They can cause pain on one or both sides of the head, in one particular location or radiate from one point all over your head. Stress, skipped meals, bad posture, alcohol and sleep changes can also result in a headache.

Types of Headaches

Primary headaches, including cluster headaches, migraines and tension headaches, are typically nothing to worry about.

  • Cluster headaches are very painful and can happen on one side of the head or one eye. They often occur in “attacks” and last from a few weeks to months with breaks in between.
  • Migraines are a throbbing or pulsing that often causes sensitivity to light and sound, nausea or vomiting. These headaches are also very painful and can last from hours to days. Lots of people experience warning signs that let them know a migraine might be happening.
  • The most common type of headaches are tension headaches, and the pain can range from mild to moderate. It’s often described as feeling like you have a rubber band around your head.

If you’re tired of reaching for the pill bottle or dealing with the pain, check out these natural ways to ease your headaches. If you still have a hard time managing the pain, talk to your doctor

1. Drink More Water

A few studies show the positive effects of drinking more water on those who suffer from headaches and migraines. Scientists in the Netherlands discovered that drinking around seven glasses of water a day relieved headache pain for many patients. 

2. Exercise

Exercise can trigger headaches and migraines for some people, but studies also show moderate aerobic exercise can prevent headaches. Exercise increases the natural pain-relieving chemicals in your brain called endorphins. These chemicals can help limit your reliance on headache medication. 

3. Choose Nutritious Foods

Some studies suggest certain foods prevent and reduce headache pain. Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, act as an anti-inflammatory and can reduce headache pain. Potassium, found in potatoes and bananas, also has properties that can relieve headaches.

4. Try Massage Therapy

The American Massage Therapy Association says full-body massages can help relieve headaches, as well as arthritis, lower back pain and insomnia. You can do a self-massage to relieve pain and tension by placing your thumbs on your cheekbones by your ears and using your fingertips to rub in a circular motion from your temples to the middle of your forehead. 

5. Practice Meditation

Meditation, the combination of stillness and mindfulness, can help control headache symptoms. The practice quiets the mind, increases pain tolerance and allows you to focus on your body without outside distractions. Meditative breathing also slows your heart rate and opens your blood vessels.

6. Stretch

Simple stretches and yoga can reduce tension-related headaches. Try these poses to alleviate pain:

  • Child’s pose
  • Cat-cow stretch
  • Forward fold
  • Seated forward bend
  • Legs up the wall

7. Practice Relaxation Techniques

Learning relaxation techniques can help manage the pain of a headache and keep it from getting worse. Breathing exercises and guided imagery are both proven to help with pain.

8. Rotate Heat and Ice

Heat and cold help reduce headache pain. Heat from a rice bag or heating pad increases the blood flow to your brain while cold from an ice pack decreases the blood going to your brain. Which you choose depends on preference.

9. Drink Caffeine

Many headache and migraine medications contain caffeine. When taken with a pain reliever, caffeine improves the effectiveness of pain medication by 40%.  While this isn’t an entirely natural strategy, it’s good to know when your headache doesn’t go away on its own.

When to Worry about a Headache

Don't ignore these signs and symptoms when they accompany a headache. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • A headache that comes on without notice or suddenly becomes severe.
  • A fever or tightness in your neck.
  • Experiencing a seizure, changes in behavior, confusion or loss of consciousness.
  • A headache that started right after an injury or exercise.
  • If you experience weakness, numbness or trouble seeing along with the headache.
  • If your headaches are frequent or severe.