10 Natural Remedies for Headaches Worth Trying
Easier than you think: Next time your skull's pounding, turn to these natural DIY headache remedies for quick relief.
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When it comes to headaches, particularly migraines, the best offense is a strong defense. What’s fine for one person sets off a headache in another, says Sait Ashina, MD, a migraine specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Brookline, MA. Finding your triggers can help you reduce the frequency of your headaches. To do that, keep a diary and note the date, time, and circumstances surrounding your headache, he says. You can share it with your doctor at your next appointment. In the meantime, use it to inform your daily habits, like avoiding a certain food that may give you trouble, keeping strict meal times, or learning that you have to go to bed and wake up at the same time daily.
There’s a reason that some OTC migraine-specific drugs contain caffeine: the alerting substance can help other pain meds work better; it may also alter your mood to change up your perception of pain, per a 2014 paper in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. A cup of coffee alone can also tell a headache to take a hike. The catch is that should be done only twice a week, according to the American Migraine Foundation. Any more and your body can build up tolerance. (If you are a daily coffee drinker, be sure to sip your Joe at the same time, and the same amount daily. Inconsistency can trigger an attack.) Try sipping a cup of coffee for headache relief, but avoid these 13 foods that make headaches worse.
Hydrotherapy may interrupt pain signals to quell discomfort. In a small study in 2016 in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, migraine sufferers who soaked their feet and arms in a hot water bath and took medication (in this case, NSAIDs) experienced fewer disabling headaches compared to a medication-only group over the course of the six-week study span. To help soothe a throbbing headache, soak your feet in a small tub filled with hot water for headache relief. After 20 minutes, hotfoot it to the nearest towel and dry off.
To cure a tension headache (caused by contractions in the head and neck, and brought on by—among other things—stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep) without painkilling drugs, dip a washcloth in hot water, wring it out, and fold it into a compress. Now place it on the back of your head for relief or the back of your neck to relax tight muscles, suggests the National Headache Foundation.
To ease a headache (including migraine and cluster headaches), you’ll want to use ice. Cold temperatures constrict the blood vessels and reduce blood flow, taking the pressure off and providing relief to a hurting head. Try placing a cool towel or ice pack on your forehead or on the back of your neck, suggests the Mayo Clinic. Find out how to spot (and stop!) sneaky signs a migraine is coming.
Change your breathing
Especially if your headache is triggered by stress, relaxing breathing techniques can be one of the easiest natural remedies for headaches—no equipment required. Find a quiet space to sit or lie down, suggests Cleveland Clinic. Breathe in for five seconds, then exhale for another five seconds. Repeat as necessary, paying attention to how your body relaxes as your breathing gets slower and more rhythmic.
Use the tips of your index fingers and press in the inner corner of the eyebrows, says Paul Robison, a licensed acupuncturist based in Washington, D.C. and the founder of liveloveflourish.com. Move fingers in small circles for a minute. Repeat 3-5 times. Focus on more pressure points for headache relief.
Ginger tea remedy
Ginger works especially well for migraines—one clinical trial in the journal Phytotherapy Research in 2014 found that ginger powder is as effective as prescription migraine medications. Make a tea by pouring three cups water over two tablespoons freshly grated ginger. Let steep four to five minutes, then strain through a small sieve into a teacup. Sip the tea for headache relief. Ginger tea bags are also available, but the tea lacks the punch of fresh ginger-root tea. Try these other natural remedies for headaches you can find in your kitchen.
Dehydration could make headaches worse, so drink up! A 2015 paper in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice pointed to a study on 102 patients dealing with frequent headaches found that those who started sipping an extra 1.5 liters of water a day had less severe headaches, though staying hydrated didn’t affect the frequency of their headaches. Learn about 13 other surprising things that could be triggering your headaches.
A small study of migraine patients found that those who did yoga in addition to taking conventional migraine treatments found more relief than those who only took medication. The study authors suggest that any exercise would probably have benefits, but yoga is one of the most realistic activity-based natural remedies for headaches because the slow movements are less likely to trigger migraines. Check out these 9 easy yoga poses you can do every day.
- Sait Ashina, MD, a migraine specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Brookline, MA.
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Caffeine as an Analgesic Adjuvant for Acute Pain."
- American Migraine Foundation: "Caffeine and Migraine."
- Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice: “Influence of Hydrotherapy on Clinical and Cardiac Autonomic Function in Migraine Patients.”
- National Headache Foundation: “Hot and Cold Packs/Showers.”
- Mayo Clinic: "Migraine."
- Cleveland Clinic: "Headache Management: Relaxation and Other Alternative Approaches."
- Paul Robison, LAc, NCCAOM Diplo, a licensed acupuncturist based in Washington, D.C. and the founder of liveloveflourish.com.
- Phytotherapy Research: “Comparison Between the Efficacy of Ginger and Sumatriptan in the Ablative Treatment of the Common Migraine.”
- Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice: “Increased Water Intake to Reduce Headache: Learning From a Critical Appraisal.”