What home remedies relieve headache pain?
Many people are occasionally bothered by headaches and wonder how to get rid of a headache quickly. The way to end a headache quickly depends on what brought it on in the first place. For many people, causes of headaches or triggers are related to dehydration, high blood pressure, tight muscles in the neck and shoulders due to physical or emotional stress, or a reaction to foods, additives, medications, or chemicals that trigger inflammatory reactions in the blood vessels.
To resolve a headache, the cause needs to be evaluated.
The first thing to try to get rid of a headache without drugs is to drink water or an electrolyte beverage. This helps because dehydration is a common cause of a headache. This is especially useful to get rid of a headache that results from drinking alcoholic beverages (a hangover headache). Ideally, choose an electrolyte beverage without artificial colors and sweeteners as these can add to a headache. Packets of powdered drink mixes, such as those mixed with vitamin C, are good options. If you have diabetes, it is important to look carefully at the sugar content of the drink.
Hot or cold compress
Applying a hot compress to the back of the neck or forehead can relax tension and ease vasoconstriction. For some people, a cold compress may feel better. A combination of heating creams (Bengay or similar) and self-massage into the sore muscles of the neck or upper back can help relax the muscles.
One research study has shown that yoga can be effective for headaches. The yoga practice included breathing techniques (pranayama) and yoga postures (asana).3 Simple stretching can also be helpful for headaches. Try doing some gentle neck rolls, stretching the jaw, and stretching each ear toward the shoulder.
Coconut and mineral water
Mineral water and coconut water are natural cures for dehydration and relieve headaches related to dehydration. They are natural sources of electrolytes, without the added sugar or artificial sweeteners that are found in many commercial electrolyte beverages.
Self-massage around the temples, shoulders and back of the head can help tension headaches. Massage, either self-massage or working with a massage therapist, can resolve chronic neck and shoulder tension that can cause headaches.
Acupuncture can be effective for certain headaches, like chronic headaches and migraines. The acupuncturist will assess the type of headache with a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, and treat the headache with needles in certain places along the energy meridians.
Biofeedback, especially neurofeedback, is a technique that can be used to re-train the mind. It is helpful for migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.
Meditation or resting
Lying down in a dark room for 15 minutes can often stop a headache or migraine.
Meditation, a more purposeful relaxation practice, has been shown to reduce several types of headache in several research studies. Spiritual meditation, as compared to mindfulness or other types of mediation, was most effective at reducing migraines.1
Magnesium relaxes blood vessels and can reduce headaches. It can be given intravenously to abort a migraine or bad tension headache in minutes. Taking a magnesium citrate oral supplement can prevent headaches. It is best taken before bed.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) is effective in preventing some headaches. Research also has found that some people, especially those with MTHFR genetic variations, get headache relief with vitamin B12, B6 and folate acid.6
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) has been researched to prevent and reduce migraines in adults and children. Butterbur is an herb that can be taken as a capsule or tincture. It is taken preventively to reduce recurrent headaches rather than taking it when the headache begins.
What foods trigger headaches?
Foods that cause histamine release and vasospasm
- Preserved or highly processed foods
- Canned beans and meats
- Fermented and aged food
- Smoked fish and meat
Another category of foods that can trigger headaches are tyramine-rich foods. Some people have a deficiency of monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down tyramine and other amines. In this situation, too many tyramine-rich foods overwhelm the enzyme and cause headaches. Tyramine-rich foods include:
- Aged cheeses
- Aged meats such as air-dried beef
- Aged sausage and salami
- Beer, especially on tap
- Red wine
- Fermented or aged foods like sauerkraut
- Soy sauce
- Miso soup
Salt also can cause headaches because it leads to fluid retention and high blood pressure. Salt is added to most packaged and processed foods so it is best to avoid those. Check labels and keep sodium less than 1500 mg per day. Hidden sources of salt in the diet include:
- Cottage cheese and cheese
- Deli meat and sausages
- Snacks foods like pretzels and chips
- Sauces and salad dressings
Natural home remedies for headaches during pregnancy
- Non-medication strategies help pregnant women get relief while avoiding both over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbs that may not be safe.
- Hydration is critical. Dehydration is common in pregnancy. A large glass of mineral water or electrolyte-replacement beverage can resolve dehydration.
- Blood pressure is often high in pregnancy and can be a cause of headache. High blood pressure requires treatment.
- Relaxation, magnesium, and avoiding salt all help with headaches related to high blood pressure.
- Hydrotherapy, the therapeutic use of hot and cold, is helpful and safe in pregnancy. Apply a hot pack to the head and the back of the neck. This can be paired with a short application of an ice pack to maximize the relief.
Which types of specialists treat headaches naturally?
Many practitioners may have useful advice about treating headaches without medication. That advice will depend on the precise diagnosis for that particular individual.
Make your health care professional aware that you are interested in natural therapies. That will allow and open an educated discussion. Your health care professional should be able to help you make the right decisions and help diagnose the underlying cause of your headaches.
Sometimes natural remedies may be suggested. You may consider discussing natural treatments for headaches with a qualified, licensed natural health practitioner. Natural health experts for headache include licensed naturopathic doctors (ND or NMD), licensed acupuncturists (LAc or DAOM), massage therapists (LMP or LMT), and certified Reiki or healing touch practitioners (often licensed as nurses or one of the professions listed above).
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Fofi L, et al. "Acupuncture in cluster headache: four cases and review of the literature." NeuolSci. 2014 May;35 Suppl 1:195-8. doi: 10.1007/s10072-014-1769-6. Review. PubMed PMID: 24867865.
Kim SD. "Effects of yoga exercises for headaches: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials." J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Ju;27(7):2377-80. Epub 2015 Jul 22. Review.
Rajapakse T, et al. "Nutraceuticals in Migraine: A Summary of Existing Guidelines for Use." Headache. 2016 Mar 7. doi: 10.1111/head.12789. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26954394.
Mauskop A. "Nonmedication, alternative, and complementary treatments for migraine." Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2012 Aug:18(4):796-806.
Agosti R, et al. "Effectiveness of Petasites hybridus preparations in the prophylaxis of migraine: a systematic review." Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov;13(9-10):743-6.