How to stop a headache? Here are 23 different ways to find headache relief, from natural remedies to medications. We also discuss non-traditional methods including acupuncture, meditation, and massage. However, these methods vary in terms of the headache types they can treat. You need to first and foremost discover the type of headache you have. Once you can discover the cause behind your sudden or persistent headache, it will get easier for you and your health care personnel to discover the most suitable treatment and possible prevention of future occurrence.
If you're worried about your headache, we interviewed a renowned Harvard doctor on "When to Worry About a Headache: Location, Duration, and Type". For help in knowing what type of headaches you’re suffering from, take our handy, specialized quiz from our headache symptom checker, which will help you narrow down your specific type of headache so you can feel better as fast as possible.
First, let’s talk about the different classifications and types of headaches there are because often, isolating the type of headache you’re having will help you cure it more effectively.
How Do I Know Which Headache Treatment is Right for Me?
There are three major classes of headaches and each of these classes of headaches is made up of different types of headaches. The three classes are:
- 1. Primary headaches
- 2. Secondary headaches
- 3. cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches
The basis of this classification is the source of the pain. In 2013, the International Headache Society came up with this current classification system for headache. Due to the fact that a good number of people suffer from headaches and because it is occasionally difficult to treat headaches, the plan was that this classification system will assist health providers to make a more precise diagnosis of the type of headache the individual is experiencing and make it much easier to treat the ailment completely.
It was also found that an individual may suffer from more than one type of headache either concurrently or successively. Headaches and migraines can vary in the degree of pain they bring and where the pain is located (the temples, the center of the head, the sinus area). For example, headaches can vary from ones that cause severe pain (chronic or debilitating migraines) to ones that are more irritating than painful (mild headaches).
Mild: Mild headaches are more irritating than painful. A mild headache won’t interfere with your daily functioning, and they tend to cause a mild or nagging pain on both side of the temples or in the middle area of the forehead. The most common cause of a mild headache is tension, stress, eye strain, or sinus congestion. The headache often feels like a tight squeezing pain around the head, especially in the temples.
Moderate: A moderate headache is one that will impact your daily functioning to some extent and is characterized by medium intensity migraines or headaches.
Moderate headaches are typically caused by stress, harsh light or sound, allergies, tension at home or work, or eating really cold foods, like ice cream. These headaches are often aggravated or worsened by strong aromas (perfume, cleaning products, smoke, gasoline, car exhaust) and loud sounds.
These type of headache sufferers often have the instinct to retreat from sound and light to a cool, dark place to recover.
Severe: A severe headache, also called a primary headache, will definitely interfere with your ability to function at home, at work, or socially. Severe headaches are painful and are often classified as intense migraines or “cluster headaches,” which means they cause pain in several areas of the head (temples, between the eyes, etcetera) at the same time.
A severe headache or migraine can last from a few hours to several days and they are very painful. Often, these types of headaches must be treated by a physician, who may prescribe a prescription medication to help alleviate the pain and occurrence of these headaches.
Debilitating: Chronic and severe migraines are often called “debilitating headaches” because they often render individuals completely helpless in the face of them, making work and daily tasks impossible. Debilitating headaches are painful and long lasting, draining you of energy and time, because that kind of pain is very exhausting.
An incredibly painful headache should never be ignored as it may be indicative of a severe head injury or underlying illness. It is strongly advised that anyone suffering with debilitating headaches, especially if they come on very suddenly, to speak with a physician immediately or go to the emergency room – especially if the headache is more painful than those experienced in the past.
This is section 1 of 2 of the traditional treatments we will cover
Please always follow labeled directions on any medications
1. Ibuprofen for headaches
Ibuprofen (such as Advil) is an NSAID or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It works by blocking an enzyme in your body that produces prostaglandins, lipid compounds which behave like hormones in the body and which cause inflammation. If you’re looking for an affordable and fast-acting treatment for a mild headache, ibuprofen is a great option. Just make sure to check with your doctor, because NSAIDS can interfere with many prescription drugs, especially drugs such as lithium, warfarin, diuretics, methotrexate, and other commonly prescribed drugs.
2. Acetaminophen for headaches
Acetaminophen is also an NSAID used that is used to treat headaches. Acetaminophen is less likely to upset your stomach, cause stomach bleeding, result to heart attack or cause ulcers than NSAIDs like ibuprofen. This is also the best over the counter pain reliever for headaches during pregnancy, as it won’t harm the fetus. However, just as with Advil and generic medications, consult with your physician about any and all possible drug interactions when considering using NSAIDS. For a good numbers of run-of-the-mill headaches, it's regularly recommended to start with acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) first.
3. Aspirin for headaches
Like ibuprofen, aspirin works to stop the production of prostaglandins. It’s an anti-inflammatory analgesic that’s ideal for mild to moderate headaches. Aspirin can also be used as a preventative measure for migraines but is not deemed strong enough to relieve pain from a migraine that’s already struck. If you suffer from daily or consistent headaches, keep in mind that aspirin should not be taken more than twice a week. However, if you are taking prescription drugs that you cannot take with NSAIDS, regular aspirin might be the perfect choice for you.
The adult recommended dose of aspirin for treatment of headache pain is 325 to 650 mg every three to four hours as required, up to six times per day. Although aspirin may help ease acute migraine pain, it must not be used more than twice a week for treatment of headache to avoid rebound effect or medication overuse.
4. Naproxen sodium for headaches
For strong headaches, try naproxen sodium, an NSAID that helps relieve inflammation. If your headache is persistent, you’ll find that naproxen sodium tends to provide longer pain relief, minimizing the risk for side effects and being more cost effective. You’ll want to check with your doctor about taking naproxen with other prescription medications, as it is an NSAID, and can interfere with some prescribed drugs.
5. Combination of over the counter medications
Can’t decide on an over the counter pain reliever? Try a combination medication such as Excedrin. Excedrin is a common headache reliever and is a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. It can block pain but if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you could find yourself in worse shape because, again, this pain reliever contains some caffeine. If stimulants typically make you feel nauseous, shaky, or unable to sleep, this might not be the treatment for you.
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6. Drinking water for headaches
If you rely on over the counter medications for headache relief, it might surprise you to learn that sometimes the water you take with the medication does more for your body than the pill itself. Tension headaches are often a common side effect of dehydration. If you notice the start of a headache coming on, think back on your recent water intake. If you’re having trouble remembering how much water you’ve had, enjoy a full glass of water before turning to other treatments.
Water is a great treatment for different types of headaches. A tension headache, for instance, is usually caused by fatigue. Fatigue is a side effect of dehydration. So, if the cause of the headache is dehydration and fatigue. You can treat the fatigue and get hydrated when medications may not be effectual, are not tolerated or are contra-indicated.
7. Tea for headaches
When you feel a headache coming on, start the kettle. Certain types of tea have been used as effective and natural pain relievers for centuries, especially when it comes to headaches. Green tea is possibly the best tea for headaches and helps in the overall relief of migraines, while chamomile tea can help with some migraine symptoms due to its tension-relieving and sedative properties. You can also try peppermint tea if your headache is paired with nausea or Sichuan lovage for overall headache prevention.
8. Caffeine for headache
When you have a headache, your blood vessels enlarge, which causes the pain to intensify. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties which help to shrink enlarged blood vessels down to their normal size, restricting blood flow and lessening your headache discomfort. So for some individuals, a cup of coffee or tea can cure a headache while for some, a caffeinated beverage can trigger a headache. If you suffer from regular headaches, keep a log to see if caffeine could be playing a role in causing them. But for others, caffeine can be a fast and affordable treatment.
9. Buckwheat pillow for headache relief
Sleeping on the wrong type of pillow can create too much pressure on the neck and increases the risk of both a poor night’s sleep and injury to the neck muscles, both of which are risk factors for headaches. A recent study has demonstrated that feather pillows actually perform the worst at reducing neck stiffness and headaches. While there are many types of pillow options out there, buckwheat pillows have become a popular choice of people prone to headaches because of their cooling effects, firm support, and natural scent. A buckwheat pillow will construct to the neck, and thus are great for management of neck pain, headaches, and various types of aliments.
The Japanese have used the buckwheat pillow for thousands of years, and two out of three Japanese have one. In the United States people are gradually discovering the benefits of this pillow as a relied for headaches, neck pain, and for optimal relaxation at night. Though not a traditional treatment option for headache, invest in one and see if it helps to relieve any neck-induced headaches. Buckwheat hulls pillows are durable. They don’t conduct or reflect heat like other pillows made from artificial fills. This makes them great for pain relief.
There're different types of buckwheat pillows. These are:
- Sobakawa buckwheat hulls pillow
- Makura buckwheat hull pillow
- Neck buckwheat hull pillow
- Bucky pillow
Buckwheat pillows are made up of:
- Buckwheat hulls
- Liner with a zipper to enable you add hulls if required.
- Outer pillow case
They are equally made up of related inter fillings of buckwheat hulls (together with buckwheat seed, which are safe to stick into a microwave, if heat is needed for pain relief).
10. Ginger for headaches
Ginger root can help relieve the pain of an intense headache or migraine and can also alleviate some of the symptoms that come along with the pain. It is believed that ginger can block prostaglandins, those inflammation-triggering molecules that are partially responsible for headache pain. To use ginger root, grind up a half teaspoon of ginger and stir it into a glass of water. You can also make it into a hot tea.
11. Apple cider vinegar headache remedy
This common kitchen staple can save the day when a headache strikes. Apple cider vinegar is a natural remedy for all kinds of health conditions, including high blood pressure, allergies, fatty liver disease, GERD, heartburn, and sinus issues. If you have any of these kinds of conditions as well as headaches, apple cider vinegar might be the choice for you. To use this remedy, mix 1 tablespoon of the vinegar into a glass of warm water and drink the entire glass down within 10 minutes. You might find that you can get away with less vinegar or that you need to double the dose. Always start out with the recommended dosage before adjusting based on your individual needs.
This is section 1 of 2 of the non-traditional treatments we will cover
12. Meditation for migraine
The fact that migraine is a disorder of a hyper-excitable brain makes it plausible for individuals with migraine to use a stress-reducing lifestyle like meditation as a useful remedy. Scientific evidences show that behavioral interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy and biofeedback, can yield as much result as the traditional medicine used in the treatment of migraine. Mindfulness meditation was also found to be one the behavioral interventions that can help people manage their migraines.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, a 2014 study published in the medical journal Headache found that meditation can reduce the frequency of migraines to 1.4 fewer incidents each month.
Controlled studies show how mindfulness may reduce anxiety, depression and as well as our response to physical pain. Additionally, brain wave and imaging studies found that mindfulness practice can truly alter brain structure and functions. The study as well found that meditation promotes thickening of the cell-containing layers of the brain, and transforming positively in specific parts of the brain.
And it doesn’t take much time to add a brief meditation session to your daily schedule. Mindfulness meditation can be done through two techniques: stopping and observing. Stopping is when you practice the state of being instead of doing. You go quiet, and gently focus basically on your breath.
In an observing technique, you broaden your field of awareness away from the breath, and other body sensations like emotions and thoughts.
Get comfortable, either sitting or lying down, and begin to breathe deeply. Focus on the exact location of your headache while calming your mind. Shut everything else out and pour your energy into relaxing the pain away. You can also use what is called “imaging” techniques when you meditate. Picture a flower opening, billowing waves or some other relaxing image and focus all your attentions on that image while you relax all the muscle groups of your body. For some people, meditation is one of the most effective remedies for all types of headaches.
13. Releasing jaw tension
Clenching your jaw not only leads to a premature wearing down of your teeth but can also cause headaches. Often, people clench their jaw and/or grind their teeth in their sleep and do not even know they do it. The reason this causes headaches is that your temporomandibular joint is directly connected to a nerve that plays a central role in the development of migraines. If you wake up in the morning with a tight jaw, you might benefit from sleeping with a mouth guard. Set up an appointment with your dentist to be evaluated. A dentist can actually tell by the appearance of your teeth and molars if you grind your teeth or clench your jaw, and they can fit you for a good mouth guard that will help you relax the jaw muscles when you sleep and relieve headaches. You can also try placing a pencil between your teeth. Hold it there for several minutes without biting down on it. This will help you learn to relax your jaw muscles and will help you relearn what a relaxed jaw feels like. It’s also a great remedy for a a tension headache.
14. Yoga for a migraine headache
It should come as no surprise that any sort of relaxing activity can help support a headache-free lifestyle. Yoga is one of the best stress-relieving activities to try. Not only does the type of deep breathing you do during yoga aid in tension relief, it also helps to increase blood flow by relaxing the neck, shoulders, and spine. The next time you have a headache, don’t skip your yoga class. Some effective poses to relieve headaches include the Cat Pose, Seated Spinal Twist, and Child’s Pose.
Trying specific asanas before the occurrence of migraine, or as it beginning to manifest is the best way to treat it with yoga. It doesn’t have to be any specific asana type. The result varies from individual to individual.
Nevertheless these yoga poses are found to be most beneficial; forward bends (Seated Forward Bends). These can reduce the amount of hormone that is released by the pituitary and adrenal glands, and quiet excited nerves. Supported Ardha Halasana (Half Plow Pose) eliminates tension from the frontal brain, the Chin Lock, normalizes energy and blood circulation to the brain.
Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) broadens the chest muscles boost the intake of oxygen and assist in even distribution of energy evenly. Legs-up-the-Wall Pose assists the mind and the nervous system to relax and as well boosts oxygen intake. All these yoga poses can help to eliminate headache but you must experiment to find the one that works best for your situation.
15. Applying cold and heat for a headache
Choosing between hot and cold therapy for headache and common injury is a bit complicated. Generally, cold-therapy assists to lessen inflammation, and heat therapy assists to relax muscles, joints, and blood vessels. Cold therapy is commonly best for a fresh injury, such as a bruise or a sprain. The ice or a cold pack instantly reduces swelling and blood vessels to constrict.
Different extremes of temperature have different kinds of healing effects on the body. Applying an ice pack when you have a headache can help numb headache pain while applying a warm sensation, like a heating pad, can help relax muscles, which also helps relieve a headache. A tension headache for instance can be reduced by applying heat to tight muscles in the neck or jaw, whereas, vascular headaches, like migraines, are better handled with cold. When using a cold pack, apply it to the forehead and temples. When it’s time to switch to heat, apply the source to your neck or the back of your head. Try to alternate between the two temperatures every 15 minutes. Hot and cold therapy is a highly effective treatment, even for severe migraines.
16. Exercise for tension headaches
Regular exercise can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines. When you exercise, the body releases endorphins, which are your body's natural painkillers. Exercise has proven to be beneficial for migraine sufferers. However, regular exercise has proven to prevent headaches from occurring more than to relieve a headache that’s already started. If you’ve been cleared for regular exercise by your doctor, come up with a workout that’s both healthy and fun. That way, you’ll want to exercise often and can enjoy a more headache-free and happy lifestyle. Aerobics are a great way to get in a short and effective workout that can help reduce stress and improve your overall mood. Long walks also help improve mood, balance hormones, reduce inflammation, and relax the body and mind. Overall, any kind of moderate exercise will boost your brain’s feel-good endorphin levels, which act as natural painkillers in the body. Exercise also reduces stress and helps you to sleep better at night. Stress and insufficient sleep are two migraine triggers.
17. Relaxation techniques for headaches
It often hard to find a mere moment to catch your breath during a hectic day, but if you notice a headache brewing, you can save yourself a lot of pain and suffering if you simply take a few minutes for a relaxation exercise of some sort. Try deep breathing, meditation, or imaging techniques. Try relaxing the muscles of the body, especially around your temples, neck, upper back, and along your spine. Conduct a mental scan of your body, focusing on any areas, including your head, that are causing you pain. Focus on these areas and slowly relax and loosen them. Rotate your head, moving slowly and stopping if the circular movement is painful. Roll your shoulders back and forth, slowly yet deliberately. Focus on expelling all tension from your body. Remember to keep your breathing deep and calm. If you have even more time, just spending a few minutes relaxing on a flat surface, like the floor or your bed, can help stop your headache from progressing.
From an Appointment
This is section 2 of 2 of the non-traditional treatments we will cover
18. Aromatherapy for headaches
Essential oils are potent compounds derived from natural ingredients like plants, herbs, and fruits. They have been used for centuries as natural treatments for a variety of ailments, including headaches. Some of the best essential oils for headaches include peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, and lavender. Mix a few drops of your chosen essential oil with a carrier substance, like coconut oil, and massage the mixture into your temples or forehead. You can also try diffusing the oils throughout a room with an essential oil diffuser or by adding several drops of your chosen oil to a pot of steaming water. If you’re not sure how to safely administer essential oils, schedule an appointment with an aromatherapist.
19. Reflexology and pressure points to stop headaches
Most pains and irritations above the neck are caused by excessive muscle tension and vascular imbalance and thus can be healed efficiently through acupressure and reflexology due to the fact that the acupressure points in this area are easily accessible and can be triggered with very little pressure. Reflexology provides a lasting solution to headaches unlike over the counter mediation that takes care of the pain short term. Reflexology is a type of massage based on applying pressure to specific reflex points on the body. You can schedule an appointment with a reflexology expert or you can read up on reflexology and try to administer a massage on your own. One reflexology exercise that is known to relieve headaches is this one: apply firm pressure to the tip of your left thumb with your right thumb and index finger. Hold this pressure for five seconds and repeat it 10 times. Repeat the process on your right thumb using your left hand. This should provide you with several hours of relief.
20. Massage therapy for headaches
Massage can relieve both tension and migraine headaches. It releases tension from all the muscles in the body and is especially good for alleviating tension in the muscles in the head, neck, and shoulders. With less tension in the body, there is less pressure on nerves and blood vessels. A quick self-administered massage can quickly cure a mild headache, but for deep, chronic headaches, a session with a professional masseuse is highly recommended.
21. Acupuncture for headaches
Studies have pointed to a strong link between acupuncture and headache relief. While similar treatments can be administered at home, it is recommended that you only let a professional apply the treatment. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese art that follows the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy in the human body. By placing needles in specific parts of the body, nerves can be stimulated to reestablish the normal flow of energy and alleviate pain in different areas of the body.
22. Electrode implants for migraines
Electrode implants are a type of “fringe treatment” that researchers are just learning about. For this type of therapy, electrode implants are placed just beneath the skin on areas like the temples. Some individuals claim that these implants can stop migraines in their tracks. They work by sending out electrical signals that prevent pain messages from traveling to the brain. It is important to note, however, that this type of treatment is still in the very early stages of research and not much is known about its effectiveness or safety. At any rate, such measures should be reserved for severe migraine suffers and only if a doctor prescribes such a treatment and administers it. The procedure can be pricey and comes with the standard risks that any elective procedure does. But the results have been promising so far, and doctors believe it could be the treatment that lifelong migraine sufferers have been hoping for.
23. Single-Pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation, or sTMS, is a new migraine treatment. It’s a self-administered, non-invasive, and non-drug treatment option. sTMS is a device which sends out magnetic pulses. Headache sufferers are supposed to place the device against the back of the head, where it delivers a brief magnetic pulse. It takes less than a minute to administer and works by using mild electrical currents to interrupt the kind of brain activity that is associated with migraines. While it sounds invasive and dangerous, there are no (as of yet) known serious side effects associated with the treatment. It should be noted that there is still testing being conducted on the safety and efficacy of this kind of treatment and it has not yet been approved by the FDA for home use. It is best for individuals who may not be the best choice like individuals with multiple co-morbidities that may have drug interactions problem. Again, it may be a great option for patients of childbearing age. It may not be safe for individuals with heart disease to take triptans. Also simple painkillers may not work for them. In these situations, sTMS offer efficient alternative treatment option.
While there will probably never be a cure for all types of headaches, progress is being made in the headache and migraine cure realm. This comes as welcome news for those who regularly suffer from painful, pounding headaches. The next time you feel that familiar sensation creeping in to sabotage your day, turn to our list of highly effective headache remedies for prompt relief.Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.