We’ve all experienced a headache at some point in our lives, but for some people, they can be chronic and cause debilitating pain. If you’re looking for natural headache relief tips to help prevent and alleviate bothersome symptoms without the use of over the counter medications, we’re sharing 11 ideas we swear by below!
What Is a Headache?
A headache is a fairly common condition that causes pain in a person’s head and/or neck. There are over 100 types of headaches (source), all causing different symptoms in varying intensities. The most common types of headaches are:
- Tension headaches. Tension headaches are the most common kind of headache, and are characterized as feeling as though there is a tight band around your head. Some tension headaches can last for as little as 30 minutes, while others can last longer and occur more frequently. They cause moderate pain on both sides of the head and/or at the back of the head and neck, and are thought to be caused by stress and muscle tension.
- Cluster headaches. While cluster headaches are generally short in duration, they are extremely painful and tend to occur quite frequently over a period of time. Some people experience cluster headaches every day – or multiple times a day – for weeks on end at certain times of the year. They can be more painful than a migraine, and often cause excruciating pain around one eye. Alcohol, tobacco, foods containing nitrates, heat, and bright lights can cause cluster headaches.
- Migraine headaches. A migraine headache causes severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually in one section of your head. It can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking and numbness, and makes you extremely sensitive to light and sound. Migraines may not develop until early adulthood, but they can begin in childhood as well. Women are more likely than men to get migraines, and if they run in your family, you’re more likely to suffer from them too.
What Causes Headaches?
The causes of a headache depend on the type of headache you are experiencing.
Tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines are all primary headaches. These are stand-alone illnesses typically caused by lifestyle factors, including alcohol use, stress, consumption of processed meats containing nitrates, poor sleep hygiene, and skipping meals.
Secondary headaches occur as the result of an underlying condition. Teeth-grinding, dehydration, and influenza can cause headaches, as can more serious medical conditions such as blot clots, stroke, and brain tumors.
Severe and persistent headaches that occur frequently should always be discussed with a medical doctor.
Is It a Headache or a Migraine?
While you may assume a very bad headache is a migraine, there are distinct differences between the two.
Tension headaches tend to come on suddenly and without warning, whereas migraine symptoms can occur one to two days before the migraine itself. These symptoms include food cravings, depression, fatigue, hyperactivity, excessive yawning, irritability, and neck stiffness.
Once these warning symptoms occur, some people experience what’s known as a migraine aura, which can cause problems with vision, speech, movement and/or sensation. A migraine aura can cause you to feel a tingling sensation in your face, arms or legs, see shapes or bright spots, or temporarily lose your vision.
Migraine headaches often cause nausea and/or vomiting and sensitivity to light, sounds, and/or smells. Even the slightest amount of physical activity can make migraine pain worse. Tension headaches rarely cause any of these additional symptoms.
11 Headache Relief Tips We Swear By
Dehydration can lead to headaches and migraines, and while increasing your water consumption can help alleviate your symptoms, regularly staying on top of your water intake can help prevent headaches from occurring in the first place. There are different reports and opinions on exactly how much H2O you should drink each day, but if you’re of average height and weight, eight 8-ounce glasses is a good goal to aim for. I find it really helpful to use a water bottle with motivational time markers to keep myself accountable!
One of the headache relief tips I swear by most is to reach for something with caffeine when I feel a headache coming on. While consuming too much caffeine can cause headaches (among other issues and symptoms), skipping your regular cup of jo can cause a headache. If this sounds like you, brewing yourself a cup of tea or coffee may help alleviate your symptoms.
3. Cold compresses
Applying a cold or frozen compress to your neck and head area can decrease inflammation, slow nerve conduction and help with headache pain overall. To make a cold compress, fill a waterproof bag with ice and wrap it with a towel. Apply it to the back of your neck, head and temples for relief.
4. Massaging pressure points
Another one of my favorite headache relief tips is to massage your temples, jaw, neck, and/or the base of your skull. You can also pinch the bridge of your nose or apply pressure to the area in between your eyebrows to help relieve tension and pain.
5. Decrease light exposure
While light sensitivity is more likely to happen with migraines and doesn’t tend to occur with tension headaches, florescent lights, flickering lights, and spending too much time staring at your computer can all cause or worsen the symptoms of a headache. Close your blinds, switch from florescent to LED lights, and purchase an anti-glare screen for your computer.
6. Ginger tea
Ginger root has plenty of benefits and is loved for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps reduce nausea and vomiting, which can be associated with migraines. Make yourself some ginger tea as soon as you feel the symptoms of a headache coming on. You can make the tea with ginger root, or buy ginger tea bags.
7. Essential oils
A list of headache relief tips wouldn’t be complete without including a couple of essential oils, am I right?! There are a number of different oils and blends that promise to ease headache symptoms, the most popular being lavender oil and peppermint oil. 100% therapeutic grade oils are inexpensive and effective—you can dilute them with a carrier oil and rub on your skin or use a room diffuser.
It probably seems strange to include physical activity on a list of headache relief tips, but hear me out on this one. While you may not feel like exercising when you are in the throes of a headache – especially if it’s a migraine! – moving your body for at least 30 minutes each day can help increase circulation and prevent/reduce the frequency of your headaches. Yoga is particularly helpful in preventing headache symptoms as it provides stress relief, decreases pain, and helps you feel better overall. Try doing a yoga sequence the next time you feel the symptoms of a headache coming on to see if it helps!
9. Dietary changes
Certain foods and drinks can trigger headaches and migraines, so if you notice symptoms after eating or drinking specific items, it’s time to change your diet. Common food triggers include too much caffeine, alcohol, foods containing MSG (soups, soy sauce, miso, tomatoes, etc.), foods containing nitrates (cured meats), foods containing tyramine (aged cheeses and fermented foods), and foods high in sodium. If you struggle with regular headaches, consider going on an elimination diet. This involves removing potential triggers from your diet for a period of time, and then reintroducing one at a time to evaluate how your body reacts, allowing you to pinpoint which foods trigger your symptoms.
Magnesium has been found to be one of the most effective remedies for headaches and migraines. When you feel the symptoms of a headache coming on, take magnesium to downplay the pain. It also helps you relax and sleep better! You can start taking a magnesium supplement daily to reduce your headache/migraine risk and symptoms.
11. B Vitamins
The final item on my list of headache relief tips is to discuss B-complex vitamins with your doctor or nutritionist. B-complex vitamins contain all of the eight B vitamins, and may have a protective effect against headaches and help reduce migraine symptoms.
Whether you suffer from occasional tension headaches or chronic migraines, I hope these headache relief tips help you find relief and decrease the severity of your symptoms. Remember that severe and persistent headaches that occur frequently can be the sign of a serious underlying medical condition and should always be discussed with a medical doctor.