How to Get Rid of a Headache
How to Get Rid of a HeadacheApril 17th, 2018 by Cindy Perlin
According the American Headache Society, 78% of the population will experience a tension-type headache in their lifetime and 16% will experience a migraine. 15% will experience a sinus headache and 4% will experience headaches as a result of head trauma. That’s a lot of people trying to figure out how to get rid of a headache.
For many, a headache is just a very occasional nuisance. For others headaches are a frequent or even daily, and sometimes disabling, problem. The most common reaction to a headache is to reach for a medication, either over-the-counter or prescription.
Why medication might not be the best option
For the occasional headache, reaching for a pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen is unlikely to cause harm. It is often an effective way to get rid of a headache. However, symptoms are our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. If we ignore the message and just cover up the symptom we don’t learn anything that can help us stay well in the future.
For the frequent headache sufferer, taking medication on a daily basis can be very dangerous. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin and Celecoxib (Celebrex), can cause life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding. All NSAIDs but aspirin significantly increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Overuse of acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause liver failure, which is fatal unless you get a liver transplant. Many chronic headache sufferers use opioids, which can cause addiction and overdose deaths. Frequent use of migraine rescue medications such as Sumatriptan (Imitrex) can cause rebound headaches, which can develop into chronic daily headaches.
All of these medications can cause many other side effects, some of them serious. So, especially for the frequent or chronic headache sufferer, it’s best to learn how to get rid of a headache without drugs.
What works best in terms of how to get rid of a headache depends on the type of headache you have. This article will focus on the most common types of headaches, which are tension-type headaches and migraine headaches. It’s also possible to have mixed headaches, with both migraine and tension headache symptoms.
How to Get Rid of Tension-type headaches
A tension headache is usually diffuse, mild to moderate pain that feels like a tight band around your head. It’s a dull, aching pain accompanied by tenderness in your scalp, neck and shoulder muscles. It is often triggered by emotional stress, which can cause the muscles of the scalp, jaw, neck and shoulders to tense. Tension headaches can also be triggered by poor posture, lack of sleep or overexertion, all of which can cause the upper extremity muscles to become overtired.
Resting, relaxing, stretching and massaging the muscles in the scalp, face, neck and shoulders can all help to get rid of a tension headache. Here are some options to try:
Meditation: Start by finding a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Begin focusing on your breath. Notice the inhalation and the exhalation. On the inhalation, say the word relax to yourself, on the exhalation say the words “let go”. Continue to focus on your breathing and relax and let go. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, bring your attention back to the breath and relax and let go. Imagine directing the words to any areas of your face, head and body that have any discomfort. This can be done for as long as you like, usually from five to twenty minutes.
Body Scan: Start by finding a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Bring your attention to the top of your head, notice any tension there, and relax the muscles in your scalp by gently suggesting that the muscles relax. Mentally work your way down your body, noticing the tension in your face, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, abdomen, back, legs and feet, suggesting that the muscles in each part relax as you pay attention to them.
Move and stretch to release the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Here is a good article that can show you how to get rid of a headache by doing that: Freeing the Neck and Shoulders.
Self-massage can also be very helpful in stopping a headache. There are many tools that can be helpful for this. I especially like the Wahl Deep Tissue Percussion Massager, which you can find HERE and the SKLZ Dual Point Tissue Massager, which you can find HERE.
Acupressure massage techniques can also be very helpful. Here’s an article on how to get rid of a headache using acupressure.
Hot or cold therapy can relieve a headache. Find the one that works best for you and place on the area of pain, leaving on for no more than 15 minutes with a 15 minute break in between.
Topical preparations that relax and heal muscles are also very helpful. Magnesium deficiency is often related to headaches and magnesium oil applied to the neck and shoulders can also be helpful. A magnesium oil spray can be found HERE.
How to Get Rid of Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches are characterized by severe throbbing pain, usually on only one side of the head. They’re often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Some migraine sufferers experience warning symptoms called auras prior to the onset of a headache. Auras may include flashes of light, blind spots, vision loss or blurred vision or tingling on one side of the face or in the arms and legs. One or two days before the onset of a migraine, migraine patients might notice some subtle changes known as a prodrome, which may include constipation, mood swings, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination or frequent yawning.
Migraines headaches can last for days and sometimes become chronic daily headaches that are severe enough to be disabling.
Migraines are often brought on by stress and muscle tension. PMigraine patients often have mixed headaches that include features of tension headaches. All of the interventions mentioned above can also be used to interrupt a migraine headache.
Ginger, peppermint and cayenne combined and made into a tea (steep for 15 minutes before drinking) can be helpful for migraines. A small amount of caffeine can also help. Grape juice has also been reported to stop a migraine.
Migraines are easier to prevent than stop. Avoid common migraine trigger foods such as aged cheeses, processed meats, aspartame, MSG and alcohol (especially wine). Supplement with magnesium and vitamin D. The herb butterbur has been proven to reduce the frequency of migraines.
Above all, learn to manage your stress. Hand temperature biofeedback, which teaches you to relax and change blood flow patterns, has been shown to be more effective than relaxation techniques alone for preventing migraines. Read an article about biofeedback HERE and an inspiring story of someone who healed intergenerational migraines with biofeedback HERE.
Professional help is available
While there are many things you can do on your own, if your problem is severe, there are many healthcare practitioners who can help you learn how to get rid of a headache or how to prevent them entirely. They include chiropractors, physical therapists, psychotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, energy healers and more. Find some of these practitioners at the Alternative Pain Treatment Directory. You can also find products that help with pain relief on the directory.