How to get rid of a headache? There are many simple natural treatments to choose from. Most of the time you may only need to perform relaxation techniques, avoid stressors, make lifestyle changes, or take some pain relieving herbs. Here are 8 tips for getting rid of a headache the natural way.
What are headaches?
As the term implies, a headache causes pain in the head that may be recurrent or short-lived. According to National Women’s Health Information Center, there are 45 million Americans (20 million of which are women) who are suffering from persistent headaches.
Causes of headaches
There are many causes and types of headaches:
These type of headaches are caused by problems with over-activity of pain sensitive structures in your head. Primary headaches are not caused by underlying disease. Chemical activity, nerves, blood vessels, neck and head muscles may be responsible for primary headaches. The most common primary headaches are cluster, tension, and migraine headaches.
Cluster headaches occur regularly over a period of time and may be more intense than a migraine headaches. Cluster headaches may involve the pain in or around the eye ( one side of the head). Cluster headaches are not as common as tension headaches or migraines.
Tension headache is caused by stiff muscles in the scalp, neck, jaw, and shoulders because of stress, injury, or improper head position.
Migraine headache causes severe throbbing or pulsating pain, which may start on one side of your head, and then slowly spreads to the other side. This type of headache may have an aura or warning symptoms before an attack happens.
These types of headaches are usually a symptoms of a disease. Secondary headaches include: acute sinusitis, blood clots, brain aneurysm, brain tumors, concussion, dental problems, ear infection, flu, hangover, dehydration, stroke, meningitis and others.
Some of the common headache symptoms are:
- Mild to severe pain that may start on both sides or one side of your head
- Vision changes, like blurry vision
- Tight muscles on the shoulders, scalp, jaw, or neck
- Or even vomiting for severe forms of headaches
Without delaying you any further, here are some of the herbal remedies and natural relaxation techniques you could try to get a faster relief.
How to get rid of a headache naturally
Butterbur, also known as Petasites hybridus, has been traditionally used to treat a cough, headache, pain, and gastrointestinal problems. Scientific evidences suggest that butterbur root extract may be a potential prophylaxis or cure for recurrent migraine headache.
It’s believed that butterbur has two ways to relieve a migraine headache pain. It’s said that butterbur is a natural beta-blocker. Beta-blockers are effective against migraine headaches because they help relax blood vessels to promote normal blood flow to the brain. It reduces the inflammatory activity of leukotrienes and prostaglandin E2.
Clinical trials have showed that butterbur extract is effective for preventing migraine in adults. In a 2005 study, researchers wanted to know if a special preparation extracted from butterbur also works on kids and teenagers with diagnosed severe migraines.
This study involved 108 participants, who were 6 to 17 years old and suffered from migraine for at least 12 months. Depending on their age, participants were given 50 to 150 milligrams of butterbur root extract for 4 months. Progress of the treatment was recorded by using journals.
At the end of the study, researchers found out that the butterbur group experienced 48% (for 75mg butterbur extract) and 36% (for 50mg butterbur extract) reduction in migraine headache attack. The placebo group experienced a 26% reduction only. The only side effect of butterbur root extract was belching.
The exact dosage of butterbur depends per product. According to WebMD, people can take 50 to 100 milligrams of butterbur rhizome extract two times a day for 4-6 months in order to prevent migraine headache. But it seems that doses lower than 50mg doesn’t have any therapeutic value for adults.
As long as you’re taking products that are free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), butterbur is safe to be taken orally by adults and kids for up to 4 months. You see, PAs are harmful for your liver, blood circulation, and lungs.
If you’re taking the following meds or something similar, please talk to your doctor before taking butterbur products:
- Tegretol (carbamazepine)
- Mycobutin (rifabutin)
- Dilantin (phenytoin)
- Phenobarbital and other liver meds
Feverfew is native to North America, Europe, and Australia. It usually blooms in the months of July to October.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) was historically used by Greek doctors to ease inflammation and fever because of its component called parthenolide, which is anti-inflammatory and anti-spasm. Back in the 80s, the British popularly used this herb as a cure for migraines. However, researchers aren’t really sure what part of the feverfew is best to use to prevent or cure migraine headache.
A study published in the British Medical Journal suggested that feverfew is a potential prophylaxis against migraine attacks. Researchers included seventeen patients with migraine: 9 were given placebo while the remaining 8 received freeze-dried feverfew powder in capsules.
What happened after?
As what the researchers suspected, those who took the placebo experienced noticeable increase in the occurrence and severity of the headache and its symptoms, like vomiting and nausea. The feverfew group, however, didn’t experience any changes in the severity or frequency of their migraine, which suggested that feverfew is a potential prophylaxis.
Another 12-week study used a product infused with 300mg feverfew and 300mg Salix alba (Mig-RL®), which were given to 12 patients with migraine without aura two times a day. At the end of the study, results were positive. There was a…
- 7% reduction of a migraine attack at 12 weeks in 9 out of 10 test subjects
- 6% reduction of intensity at 12 weeks in 9 out of 10 test subjects
- 2% reduction of a migraine duration at 12 weeks in 9 out of 10 test subjects
Even though the results were in favor of feverfew, researchers still recommend for a study involving a larger test subject population to be done to confirm feverfew’s efficacy and safeness.
Fortunately, feverfew rarely causes any serious allergic reactions. But it does have minor side effects, such as intestinal gas, abdominal discomforts, digestion problems, mouth sore, taste loss, and others.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the usual dosage range used by clinical researchers for the treatment of migraine headache is between 50mg and 100mg per day, with a standardized parthenolide concentration of 0.2% to 0.35%.
For thousands of years, ginger has been popularly used to treat different conditions, like inflammation, motion sickness, indigestion, and nausea. Modern science has shown that it’s also a possible natural alternative for over-the-counter analgesics, like ibuprofen and mefenamic acid.
Experts believe that meds are most effective when taken at the start or during the mild phase of a headache. One study investigated the efficacy of Gelstat Migraine® when introduced during mild headache phase.
(Gelstat Migraine® is an over-the-counter product that’s a combination of ginger and feverfew. It’s administered under the tongue or sublingually in order to provide fast results.)
This study involved 30 subjects with a history of a migraine attack for a year (with or without aura). Most of them experienced around 15 headaches and 2 to 8 migraine attacks per month.
Out of the 29 subjects who completed the study, there were 34% who experienced only a mild headache and 48% were pain-free two hours after taking Gelstat Migraine®. There were side effects, but they were mild and negligible.
Since it’s an herbal remedy, there’s no established dose for ginger supplements. The safest way to take the ginger is to follow the directions stated on the label of the product you’re using. For migraines, the University of Maryland Medical Center suggested taking 250mg of ginger up to four times daily.
Best way to get rid of a headache with ginger:
- Cut fresh ginger into strips.
- Add it to ½ cup of water and ½ cup milk in a pot.
- Shortly after, add your choice of tea leaves. Simmer.
- After the mixture starts boiling, you can add any sweetener, like honey or sugar.
- Drink it in the early stage of your headache.
Ginger is generally safe when taken by mouth. Some of its side effects are nausea and mouth numbness. Individuals with blood disorders or are taking meds that thin the blood, like warfarin (Coumadin), should consult their doctor first before taking any ginger preparation to avoid bleeding problems.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing method that dates back from 200 BCE. Acupuncture comes from two Latin words, ‘acus’ (needle) and ‘punctura’ (to puncture).
The different types of acupuncture are Korean hand acupuncture, Myofascially based acupuncture, French energetic acupuncture, Japanese style acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine based acupuncture. The number of treatments you require will highly depend on the type and severity of your illness and overall health.
This system of healing is based on the belief that qi (pronounced as “chee”), a type of energy, flows inside our bodies through energy pathways called meridians. These meridians correspond to a single or group of body organs. Chinese healers believe that a balanced energy flow leads to a good health.
Until now, no one knows how acupuncture really works. There’s one theory that the very thin needles used to penetrate the skin stimulate nerve fibers, which deliver signals to the brain and spinal cord. This will then lead to increased blood circulation and pain-killer hormones to be released. That explains why you feel relief from painful conditions, like a headache.
To further test the effectiveness of acupuncture, the NHS National Coordinating Centre for Health Technology Assessment commissioned a group of researchers to conduct a large scale randomized, controlled trial. This study involved 401 participants with a chronic headache, mainly a migraine.
For more than 3 months, participants were randomly assigned to receive 12 acupuncture treatments. These treatments were done by experienced acupuncturists (with over 12 years of experience), who were part of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists.
Results showed that the acupuncture group greatly benefited from the treatment. Their headache attacks were reduced yearly (equal to 22 fewer days). Unlike the control group, those who received acupuncture had fewer sick leaves (15% less), doctor visits (25% less), and took lesser meds (15% less).
Although clinical studies are lacking, many swears by the power of meditation, breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation techniques when it comes to promoting physical and emotional wellness. They’re a great way to beat stress and tension-type headache, without worrying about adverse effects.
As I’ve said before, common causes of headaches are improper posture and rigidity of scalp, shoulder, jaw, neck, temples, and forehead muscles. Thus, it’s only logical to use techniques that promote muscle and mental relaxation to prevent or treat headaches.
In one randomized controlled trial, researchers investigated the efficacy of self-care versus yoga therapy. This study involved 72 people who suffered with migraines (with or without aura). They were randomly allocated to either the self-care group or yoga therapy group.
For this study, yoga therapy included the following:
- Pranayama (yoga breathing exercises) is for emotional wellness and relaxing tight muscles.
- Jalaneti (nasal irrigation)
- Kapalbhati (“kapal” means forehead and “bhati” means shining) is a powerful breathing exercise that helps enhance brain oxygenation and promote mental and physical health.
- Neck, shoulder, and back muscles stretching
After 3 months, results showed that the yoga therapy group experienced greater relief than the self-care group. The pain level, frequency, and intensity of their headaches, as well as their anxiety and depression scores, were lower. They also used fewer symptomatic meds.
Tricks to get rid of a headache with yoga:
- Downward-facing dog (adho mukha shvanasana)
- Simple seated twist
- Sun salutation (surya namaskar)
- Cat-cow stretch (chakravakasana)
- Shoulder stretch
- Legs-up-the-wall pose (viparita karani)
Yoga experts recommend that yoga poses should NOT be done during the severe stage of a headache or migraine. Instead, perform the mild yoga poses at the first sign of a headache. Before you attempt to do yoga, be sure to let an experienced practitioner teach you how to execute each pose to prevent injury.
The term aromatherapy, which uses essential oils extracted from various plants, was first used by a French chemist known as René-Maurice Gattefossé back in 1928. Essential oils are usually extracted from a plant’s seed, flower, roots, leaves, and bark. Some of the essential oils that promote relaxation (physical and mental), sleep, and headache relief are:
- Roman chamomile
What do scientific evidences say about aromatherapy’s effectiveness against headaches?
A 2007 study says it seems to be effective. Researchers of this study focused on 40 middle-aged women with recurrent headaches. They divided them into two groups: 19 women were assigned to the aromatherapy group and 21 women to a control group.
The essential oils used were basil, rose, lavender, and rosemary with a preparation ratio of 1:1:1:1, respectively. The aromatherapy (via inhalation method) was performed thrice a day, 120 seconds per inhalation, for 15 times.
Compared to the aromatherapy group, 38.1% of the control group used acetaminophen, a pain-reliever drug, as a relief med. There was only 5.3% of the aromatherapy group who took acetaminophen. Thus, the researchers surmised it’s a highly effective alternative treatment for recurrent headaches.
Headache Remedy Tip
- Put a few drops of essential oil (see the list above) to a clean tissue or hankie. Then sniff it all throughout the day to ease your headache.
- Always dilute essential oils using your choice of carrier oil, like coconut, sweet almond, and avocado.
- Do a patch test before using an essential oil to ensure you’re not allergic to it.
- Avoid using the same kind of essential oils for over 1-2 weeks at any one time.
- If you have a pre-existing medical condition or suspect you have a health problem, please seek a medical advice first.
Acupressure is a 5,000-year-old healing technique that originated from Asia. To cure the different ailments, fingers are used to apply firm and equal pressure on trigger points. This healing art eases the pain and muscle tension, enhances body circulation, and treats stress-related illnesses.
The difference between acupuncture and acupressure is that the first one uses very thin needles with varying lengths to produce therapeutic effects, while the other uses firm finger pressure. But they both use the same meridians (energy pathways) and pressure points.
Various acupressure styles all used the same pressure points, too. The difference would lie on the amount of pressure and rhythm variation used. Some acupressurists don’t only use their fingers, but their legs, elbows, arms, hands, and feet. They may even integrate other healing methods into your acupressure treatment.
Well, you can try doing acupressure on yourself. But it would be better if you let a trained acupressurist do the job, especially when you’re suffering from a migraine headache.
If you do try acupressure on your own, please avoid using a firm pressure during a severe headache attack. Start with gentle pressure, and then gradually increase the firmness of your pressure to a level that you can tolerate.
Fastest way to get rid of a headache with acupressure:
Massage your scalp the same way when you’re washing or shampooing your hair. Apply a firm pressure to the trigger points all over your scalp by using your two thumbs, and then breathe deeply during the process. This will help to release tension, enhance circulation, and promote proper brain oxygenation.
Is acupressure clinically proven to be effective?
Studies are not that abundant, but based on a 2003 randomized controlled trial conducted in a Southern Taiwan medical center, acupressure seems to be a superior treatment than muscle relaxant treatment.
Researchers employed 28 patients with a chronic headache, and then randomly assigned 14 to the acupressure group and 14 to the muscle relaxant medication group. Outcome measures were assessed 1 month and 6 months after the treatment.
Results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis—that 1 month and even 6 months of acupressure is far more effective than the muscle relaxant medications.
Magnesium is an important body mineral. Your heart, kidneys, muscles, and other organs require this to function properly. Magnesium helps with energy production and regulation of important body nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, zinc, copper, and potassium.
Good news: Deficiency of this mineral is generally rare.
Bad news: certain health issues, like those affecting your digestive organs and thyroids, could affect magnesium balance inside your body.
Some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are the following:
- Sleep problems (e.g. insomnia)
- Vomiting and nausea
- Irregular heart beat
- Anxiety and irritability
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Spastic and weak muscles
- Seizure attacks
- Poor growth of nails
A large number of scientific studies suggests that deficiency of magnesium can cause headaches. But compared to people suffering from tension headaches, those with migraine headaches tended to have lower magnesium levels.
To speed up recovery, reduce medication use, and prevent migraine attacks, a few clinical studies suggest that sufferers start supplementing with magnesium sulfate. Researchers of one study concluded that 1 gram of intravenous magnesium sulfate is safe, effective, and well-tolerated by people with a migraine.
The right therapeutic dosage of magnesium should be determined by your doctor based on the dietary reference intakes set by the Food and Nutrition Board of the United States Government’s Office of Dietary Supplements. Generally, a B-complex vitamin is preferable.
Some of the side effects of magnesium supplement are diarrhea and upset stomach.
These are just a few complementary alternatives you can use to prevent or treat headaches. For persistent headaches, seek medical help to determine if any underlying health condition is present.
As what’s always said, prevention is better than cure. The same is true with headaches. Know and avoid your triggers, so your headache severity and frequency are reduced.
How could you possible keep track of your triggers? Try keeping a migraine or headache journal. Some of the common triggers of headaches, especially migraines, are hormonal changes (due to menstruation, pregnancy, puberty, or birth control pill intake), tyramine-rich foods (e.g. aged cheese), stress, sleep deficiency, air pollution, and others.
These were just some of the suggestions on how to get rid of a headache. I surely hope you will find this article a great help and fun to read. What other natural remedies for a headache can you suggest to everyone? I would really love to hear your ideas and tips!