Health Topics

Self-Care Treatments for Headaches

There are options for headache treatments that don’t require prescriptions or over-the-counter medication. Here are some tips for treating headaches yourself:

  • Apply an ice pack to the painful area of your head. Try placing it on your forehead, temples or the back of your neck.
  • Take a warm bath or shower.
  • Take a nap.
  • Take a walk.
  • Ask someone to rub your neck and back, or treat yourself to a massage.
  • Apply gentle, steady rotating pressure to the painful area of your head with your index finger and/or thumb. Maintain pressure for seven to 15 seconds, then release. Repeat as needed.
  • Rest, sit or lie quietly in a low-lit room. Close your eyes and try to release the tension in your back, neck and shoulders.
  • Stretch and relax the muscles. For patients who have excessive muscle contractions in the neck, physical therapy exercises performed daily are often helpful.

How Can I Help Reduce or Prevent Headaches?

There are many ways that you can make a headache episode more tolerable. Try the techniques listed below the next time you are coping with the symptoms of a headache.

Follow Your Treatment Plan.

Avoid taking medicines that have not been ordered by your doctor. Do not take over-the-counter pain medicines more than twice a week. If you don’t feel your treatment plan is working effectively, contact your doctor.

  • Reduce Emotional Stress.

    Take time to relax and take time away from stressful situations. Learn relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

  • Reduce Physical Stress.

    Proper rest and sleep will allow you to deeply relax so you can face the stressors of the new day. When sitting for prolonged periods, get up and stretch periodically. Relax your jaw, neck and shoulders.

  • Exercise Regularly.

    Get at least 20 minutes of exercise three times a week. Exercise reduces stress and can reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches. It also increases the levels of beta-endorphines, your body’s natural stress reliever. If you already have a headache, exercise can help relieve the pain.

  • Keep a Regular Schedule.

    Maintaining a regular schedule can help your body in alignment. Changing your schedule can make it hard for your body’s chemistry to adjust. The following are tips on how to keep your schedule regular:

  • Eating well-balanced meals and snacks at about the same time every day
  • Not skipping meals
  • Getting at least eight hours of sleep per night
  • Taking brief rest periods during the day to relax
  • Avoiding alcohol — Blood flow to your brain increases when you drink alcohol, increasing headache pain. Some scientists blame the headaches on impurities in alcohol or on by-products produced as your body metabolizes alcohol.
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Quitting smoking — Smoking can trigger headaches and make any headache, especially cluster headaches, worse. Ask your health care provider for information about smoking cessation programs in your community.
  • Talking to a friend, family member, religious professional or health care professional if you need support for dealing with your problems.