It's likely that you've experienced the pain, pressure, or throbbing of a
headache. Headaches range from mildly irritating to incapacitating. You may find
relief from complementary therapies for two of the most common kinds of
headaches: tension and migraine.
Tension headaches are usually caused by muscle contractions in your
head and neck. The pain is dull and steady and may feel like a band tightening
around your head.
Migraine headaches result from overactive blood vessels. If you have a
migraine, you will feel a throbbing or pounding pain on one or both sides of
your head. You may also feel nauseous and parts of your body may feel weak or
There are many triggers and risk factors for headaches. Emotional stress may
lead to a headache, as can fatigue, noise, or even glare from the sun. Allergies
to food or alcohol may also spark a headache. Common trigger foods include hard
cheeses, chocolate, dairy products, and foods containing MSG or caffeine.
Heredity, poor posture, and oversleeping are other factors that may lead to a
headache. Both men and women sometimes experience headaches because of hormonal
To prevent a headache, exercise regularly and try to reduce the stress in
your life. Seek to determine your personal headache triggers: notice if you get
headaches after eating certain foods or drinking alcohol; the same goes for
oversleeping or working long hours in front of the computer.
If you suffer from chronic headaches, be sure to tell your doctor. Headaches
can be a symptom of a more serious health condition. Call your doctor if any of
the following is true of your headache:
- it came on suddenly and is severe;
- it came on after a head injury and has lasted for more than a
- over time, it is getting worse instead of better;
- it is accompanied by a fever and a stiff neck;
- it is accompanied by disturbed vision or speech, numbness or weakness
in one part of the body, blackouts, confused thinking, or memory
If you decide to try a complementary therapy for headache relief, there are
several to consider:
Supplement and herbal products appear to be most useful for treating
migraines. Ask your doctor about magnesium supplements, riboflavin, and the herb
Biofeedback and relaxation therapy have been shown to relieve tension
headaches when used together. Biofeedback involves learning how to influence
certain bodily functions, such as heartbeat, blood flow, and blood pressure.
Relaxation therapy includes meditation, visualization, and breathing exercises.
It will benefit you most if you practice these every day.
Chiropractic manipulation appears to be useful in treating tension
headaches caused by muscle strain from poor posture. It may be a method to try
if you have a lot of headaches and sit for long periods, work for many hours at
a computer, or perform repetitive motions. Chiropractic care may have better
long-term benefits and fewer side effects than drug therapy.
Hypnosis has been proven effective for tension headaches. The success
of this therapy, however, largely depends on how responsive you are to hypnotic
Acupuncture has been shown to provide short-term pain relief from
tension and migraine headaches. The National Institutes of Health concluded that
it might be useful alone or with other headache therapies. Acupuncture may work
to reduce headache pain and frequency.
There are other complementary therapies that may help relieve a headache, but
they have not yet been studied adequately. These include massage therapy,
homeopathic remedies, and aromatherapy oils. Before you try any complementary
therapy, talk to your doctor. In order to provide the best care for you, he or
she needs to know about all therapies and self-medications you are