Most people get headaches from time to time, whether they’re mild annoyances or skull-crushing distractions. Treatment varies depending on the type of headache you’re experiencing, but here are some quick feel-better strategies, as well as long-term solutions for stopping the pain before it becomes uncontrollable and difficult to handle.
Causes of Headaches
The most common cause of headaches is prolonged tension or stress. These are called tension headaches or muscle-contraction headaches. Virtually everyone suffers from this at some time. Muscles in your scalp, neck, and face tighten and contract, causing spasms and pain. Psychological factors such as anxiety, fatigue, and stress as well as mechanical factors such as neck strain (e.g. working on a computer for prolonged periods) are often the culprits behind a typical tension headache. Other causes of headaches are listed below.
Eating and Sleeping Patterns: Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep enough (not too much or too little), and don’t sleep in an odd position in a cold room – it can make your muscles spasm.
Food Sensitivities: Food and drink release neurotransmitters, which can cause headaches in some people. Triggers include aspartame, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, cheese and more.
Hormones: When estrogen levels drop (especially right before your period), you may be more likely to get a headache. Keep track of your cycle and plan when you can.
Poor Posture: Poor posture is also one of causes of headaches. Sit up straight to keep blood flowing and move around when you can if you spend extended periods of time bent over a desk.
Lack of Physical Activity: Even though over-exertion can increase your risk for headaches, staying sedentary doesn’t help either. As with most things in life, moderation is key. Talk to your doctor before beginning or revising any exercise regimen.
Physical Activity: Take it easy in the gym. Pushing too hard can result in an exertional headache from the swelling of blood vessels in your head, neck and scalp.
Medication: Some prescription medications may have the potential to trigger a headache. If you notice an increase, talk to your doctor.
Noise: It’s not just loud, repetitive sounds. Even lower level on continuous noise can hurt. Calming music and headphones may help.
Glare: Brightness from your computer screen, sunlight or overhead lights can make things painful. Turn it down and try adding a desk lamp.
Anxiety: Stress can take a toll on you. Breathe, relax and take a stroll.
Types of Headaches
It’s important to figure out what type of headache is causing your pain. If you know your headache type, you can treat it correctly. Types of headaches are listed below.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and are what we think of as normal, “everyday” headaches. They feel like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head, as though a tight band is stretched around it.
A tension headache normally won’t be severe enough to prevent you doing everyday activities. They usually last for 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days.
The exact cause is unclear, but tension headaches have been linked to things such as stress, poor posture, skipping meals and dehydration.
Migraines are less common than tension headaches. They’re usually felt as a severe, throbbing pain at the front or side of the head. Some people also have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
Migraines tend to be more severe than tension headaches and can stop you carrying out your normal daily activities. They usually last at least a couple of hours, and some people find they need to stay in bed for days at a time.
Cluster headaches are a rare type of headache that occur in clusters for a month or two at a time around the same time of year.
They’re excruciatingly painful, causing intense pain around one eye, and often occur with other symptoms, such as a watering or red eye and a blocked or runny nose.
Pharmacy medications don’t ease the symptoms of a cluster headache, but a doctor can prescribe specific treatments to ease the pain and help prevent further attacks.
They more often affect men, run in families, are strongly associated with cigarette smoking, and tend to occur in clusters over a few days, weeks, or months with long headache-free periods lasting from months to years. In some cases, they are triggered by alcohol. The cause is not known.
Home Remedies for Headaches
Because headaches can stem from a variety of causes, some headache sufferers seek treatment on a near-daily basis. Fortunately, there are several effective home remedies that can help you get rid of headaches.
1. Ice Pack
Placing a cold compress like an ice pack on your forehead will numb the pain, help shrink the blood vessels and improve circulation to the area. This particular remedy works well for headaches due to stress or sinus problems.
- Wrap some ice cubes or crushed ice in a thin towel. Hold it against your forehead for a few minutes. A bag of frozen vegetables can also serve as an icepack. Never apply ice directly on your skin as it can damage the skin.
- Alternatively, apply a cold cloth on your head and temples for 10 minutes and repeat the process for some time until you get relief.
Ginger can help reduce inflammation of the blood vessels in the head, thus providing relief from a headache.
- Mix equal parts of ginger juice and lemon juice. Consume it once or twice a day.
- Another option is to apply a paste of one teaspoon of dry ginger powder, also called sonth, and 2 tablespoons of water on the forehead for a few minutes.
- You can also boil ginger powder or raw ginger in water, and inhale the vapor.
- Chew 1-2 pieces of crystallized ginger candy.
Cloves are useful in curing tension headaches. Crush some cloves and wrap them in a piece of cloth. When you suffer with headache, inhale the smell of crushed cloves. This will surely provide you relief from a headache.
- You can also make a paste by crushing some cloves and apply it directly on forehead.
- Other option is to use clove oil with some salt. Mix it and gently rub it on your forehead. You will get rid of your headache with a cooling effect.
If the cause of your headache is dehydration, you can easily get relief from the pain by rehydrating your body.
- Simply drink a glass of water at the first sign of a headache and continue taking small sips throughout the day.
- Along with water, you can have sports drinks. The electrolytes present in sports drinks can treat headaches caused by tension and dehydration.
When suffering from a headache, stay away from drinks like alcohol that can dehydrate your body.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Both apples and apple cider vinegar can be used to get rid of a headache. They help restore the acid-alkaline balance in the body. Furthermore, simply the smell of green apples can help reduce migraine headaches.
- When you wake up in the morning with a headache, eat a piece of apple sprinkled with some salt. Then drink some warm water.
- Alternatively, fill a large bowl with steaming hot water and add 3-4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to it. Hold a towel over your head and take in the steam for 10-15 minutes.
- Another option is to add 2 teaspoons of some apple cider vinegar to a glass of water. You can also add a little honey and lemon juice. Drink it 2-3 times a day.
Add one tablespoon of sugar in a glass of watermelon juice. Stir it well and drink it.
You can also prepare watermelon smoothie. Blend 2 cups seeded watermelon, 1/2 cup of yogurt, 1/2 cup of crushed ice, 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger, and some honey. Drink it to get rid of your headache.
8. Spicy Foods
The effectiveness of spicy foods on headaches depends on the individual person and the type of headache. However, if you have a sinus headache, spicy foods may help decrease congestion and allow you to breathe better, which can help you get rid of your headache.
9. Mint Juice
- Extract mint juice from a handful of mint leaves and apply it on forehead and temples to treat headache.
- You can also place mint tea compresses on the forehead to relieve discomfort. Along with mint juice, corainder juice is also an effective home remedy for headaches.
The calming and soothing properties of peppermint are well known, and it can be very effective in the treatment of headaches.
- Apply freshly crushed peppermint leaves to the forehead and leave to sit for 10-15 minutes, while breathing deeply.
- Fresh peppermint leaves can also be used to make a soothing tea. Simply add freshly washed peppermint leaves to a cup of boiling water and leave to infuse for several minutes.
Lemon is a very effective and powerful ingredient to get rid of headaches because it is refreshing and relaxing. Plus, it helps maintain the acid-alkaline balance in the body.
- Drinking warm water mixed with juice squeezed from 1/2 of a lemon will reduce the intensity of a headache.
- Another option is to apply lemon crusts, pounded into a paste, on your forehead to immediately relieve pain.
Yogurt is a great source of calcium. The brain is dependent on calcium to function effectively. When you are suffering with headache, eat some yogurt.
Basil works as a muscle relaxant, making it a helpful treatment for mild headaches caused by tense muscles. Plus, it has calming and analgesic effects.
- Put 3-4 fresh basil leaves in a cup of boiling water and let it simmer for a few minutes. Optionally, add a little honey and then sip the tea slowly.
- You can also boil one tablespoon of basil leaves or a few drops of basil oil to a pot of boiling water and carefully lean over the pot to take in the steam.
- Alternatively, chew some fresh basil leaves or massage your forehead with basil oil mixed with a base oil.
14. Green Tea
Green tea, generally regarded as a health-promoting drink, is rich in antioxidants. Squeeze half lemon in it and drink it warm.
Headaches, associated with common cold, can be treated with the help of cinnamon. Take a stick of cinnamon and crush it. Add some water to make a smooth paste. Put the paste on the head for a few minutes.
You can also mix 2 teaspoons of cinnamon powder in a cup of milk and boil it for 2 minutes. Mix a teaspoon of honey in it and stir it well. Drink the mixture twice a day to get rid of your headache.
16. Hot Water
Applying heat on the back of your neck can relieve headaches caused by stress. Heat relaxes tense muscles, thus alleviating the throbbing pain.
- Simply apply a hot water bag to the back of your neck or take a hot shower directing the water onto the back of your neck.
- Another option is to fill a tub with bearable hot water and put your hands in it for 10-15 minutes. This will improve blood circulation and thus give you relief from the headache.
- If you suffer from chronic headaches, you can dip your legs in a bucket filled with hot water for 10 minutes before going to bed.
Essential Oils for Headaches
Using essential oils for headaches can be a very effective way is managing the symptoms and sometimes even the underlying source of the pain. Essential oils are known to have many soothing, pain-reliever properties found in a variety of plants.
1. Rosemary Oil
The rosmarinic acid in rosemary oil has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties that help treat a headache.
- Simply massage your forehead and temples with a few drops of rosemary oil mixed in one tablespoon of carrier oil.
- Alternatively, make an herbal tea by boiling one teaspoon of crushed rosemary leaves and one teaspoon of crushed sage leaves in a cup of water. Cover it while boiling and then let it steep for 10 minutes. Let the tea cool to room temperature, then drink it. You can have this herbal tea 2-3 times a day. If both the herbs are not available, you can make the tea with either of the two herbs alone.
Note: Rosemary oil may not be suitable for those suffering from epilepsy or high blood pressure.
2. Peppermint Oil
Peppermint contains menthol that helps open up clogged blood vessels that cause headaches. It also has calming and soothing effects.
- Mix 3 drops of peppermint essential oil in one tablespoon of almond oil, olive oil or just water. Massage your forehead and temples with it.
- Or, you can put crushed fresh peppermint leaves on your forehead.
- Alternatively, you can prepare a steam treatment by adding a few drops of peppermint essential oil to a small pot of boiling water. Inhale the steam for a few minutes.
3. Eucalyptus Oil
Eucalyptus oil has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. It provides a soothing effect and helps relax tense muscles contributing to a headache.
- Simply massage your forehead and temples with eucalyptus oil for 15-20 minutes.
- Along with eucalyptus oil, you can use coconut oil or almond oil.
4. Lavender Oil
Simply smelling the soothing scent of lavender oil can be of great help in relieving tension headaches. Research suggests that it can also help improve migraine symptoms.
- Put a few drops of lavender essential oil on a tissue and inhale it. You can also add 2 drops of lavender oil to 2 cups of boiling water and inhale the steam.
- Another option is to mix 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil in one tablespoon of carrier oil such as almond oil or olive oil and massage your forehead with it.
Note: Don’t take lavender oil orally.
It’s important to note that every person is different, the source of your headache will vary, and what will work for one person, might not work for you (or might not work every time). Essential oils are very subjective, meaning trial and error (and with high quality oils) is necessary to find the right solution. When something doesn’t work, try a better brand or a new essential oil for your headache.
Related Video: Essential Oils for Headaches
Massage for Headaches
The most common headaches are vascular and muscle tension headaches. Vascular headaches, a result of swelling and constricting blood vessels, are typically accompanied by throbbing or pounding pain. Tension headaches, caused by tense muscles, cause a dull constant pain, often on both sides of the head. Both types of headaches may last for hours or days.
Massage can relieve both types by relaxing the tense muscles, causing them to place less pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that supply them.
Stretch Your Neck Muscles
1. Tilt to your head to one side, lowering your ear towards your shoulder. Allow the weight of your head to provide a natural stretch for the neck muscles and hold it for 10 seconds.
2. Return your neck to a normal upright position and relax it for 10 seconds. Do the same stretch on the other side by lowering your other ear towards your shoulder.
3. Repeat this neck stretch alternating from side to side with a rest stop in between until the muscles on both sides of your neck feel relaxed.
4. Drop your chin to your chest to stretch the back of your neck muscles. Hold the stretch 10 seconds and then return your neck upright.
5. Repeat this stretch in the opposite direction by dropping your head back and looking up at the ceiling.
Massage the Back of Your Neck and Base of Your Skull
1. Use your finger tips to massage up and down your neck. Massage the muscles on both sides as well as the front and back of your neck.
2. Place the fingertips of both hands on the base of your skull on either side of your neck.
3. Use a circular motion to massage the base of your skull. Move your fingers out towards your ears slowly finishing the massage with the area around your ears.
Massage Your Face
1. Drink a glass of water before beginning your massage.
- Fill the glass again and keep it with you so you can sip it during the massage. You also want to drink another glass of water after you are done with your massage.
- It is important to keep your body well hydrated for 24 hours after a massage.
2. Place your thumbs on either side of the bridge of your nose at the base where it joins your forehead.
- Squeeze the bridge of your nose by pushing your thumbs towards each other.
- Apply firm pressure but do not press hard enough to cause pain.
- Hold it for 10 seconds then release and repeat 3-5 times.
3. Keep your thumbs in the same place on the bridge of your nose but rotate them so the pads of your thumbs face up towards your forehead. Press upwards with your thumbs, hold them for 10 seconds, then release and repeat a few times.
4. With your pointer fingers, apply gentle yet firm pressure on top of your eyelids if you get headaches behind the eyes. Then move down to the ends of the eyelids and apply pressure there. Do this 3 times or more if needed.
5. Place your three center fingers or the balls of your hand on your temples. Apply steady firm pressure and hold it for 10 seconds. Massage this area in a circular motion.
6. Massage the area under your eyebrows.
- Use your pointer finger and thumb on each hand to pinch the skin just below your eyebrows, starting close to the bridge of your nose.
- Gently pull the pinched skin away from your face and hold it firmly for a few seconds before releasing.
- Move your fingers towards the outer edge of your eyebrow and repeat the pinch and pull. Move and repeat again if necessary to cover the entire area under your brows.
Related Video: How to Massage Away a Headache
How to Prevent Headaches
The causes of headaches are many, but if you can pinpoint what causes yours, you can learn how to avoid headaches altogether.
Keep yourself hydrated. Not getting enough water on a daily basis can lead to a plethora of bodily issues, one of which is frequent headaches. Drink many fluids throughout the day, focusing on drinking mostly water. You may feel relief in a half hour.
Exercise more. The power of exercise is vast, and among the many things it is capable of doing is healing and preventing headaches.
Aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise a day, including some cardio. Working out will release endorphins which improve your mood as well, so not only will your headaches go away, you’ll be extra happy as well.
Take magnesium. When taken daily, magnesium may help reduce the frequency of headaches and migraines. This is because magnesium can help to ease nerves, which can become overstimulated during headaches and migraines. You’ll likely need more than the average multi-vitamin contains or about 400 to 600 milligrams a day.
- Look for amino acid-chelated magnesium (many brands contain magnesium oxide, which is not absorbed as well).
- You can also increase your magnesium by eating dark green vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Improve your posture. Improving your posture can make all the difference and help you prevent headaches.
- Try using an ergonomic chair if you’re sitting down a lot, and make a conscious effort to sit up tall but relaxed, with your shoulders back, your chest open, and your neck not sticking too far forward.
- Working on strengthening core muscles helps a lot with posture, since balance and the strength to support ourselves properly comes from mostly from our center.
Straighten out your diet. Your diet works in two parts: if you’re eating your meals at significantly different times each day or if you’re not eating a balanced diet, you may be experiencing headaches as a result.
Start by setting firm times to eat each of your meals, with your last meal being no later than two hours before you head to bed at night.
Additionally, work on incorporating plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon). These will help provide your body with the nutrients it needs, reducing the likelihood of a headache.
Avoid headache-inducing substances. Some substances are more likely to cause headaches than others. You can prevent headaches by limiting your intake of these substances:
- Nitrates and nitrites. Nitrates and nitrites are found in processed meats and in monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is used to enhance the flavor of some foods. Nitrates can also be found in some heart medicines.
- Phenylethylamine, which is found in some chocolate and cheeses.
- Tyramine, which is sometimes found in nuts and fermented meats, cheeses, and soy.
- Aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in many foods.
- Caffeine and alcohol can also trigger headaches in some people.
Try not to take pain relievers on a regular basis. It sounds counterintuitive, right? Believe it or not, if you take pain medication (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, or aspirin) more than 10 times a month, you may be giving yourself more headaches.
These medications may create something called ‘rebound headaches’ as a result of a type of built up tolerance/addiction to the pain pills.
Minimize your consumption of these pills if you take them on a consistent and regular basis, and you may notice a decrease in your headaches as well.
Limit your consumption of junk foods. Junk foods, including fried foods, processed foods, and foods high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat are to blame for a wide variety of health issues including headaches.
Although on occasion consuming these foods is alright, if they make up a large part of your diet, they may be to blame for your headaches. Work at creating a balanced diet and cutting these foods out whenever possible.
Wear sunglasses. Prolonged exposure to sunshine can mess with your brain’s thalamus, which sends pain signals to your body. To protect your eyes from the glare and decrease the risk of headaches, wear polarized sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection.