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Table of Contents > Articles > Goodbye, Aching Head
Goodbye, Aching Head

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 tingly.

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 imbalances.

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 week;
  • 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 loss.

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 feverfew.

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 suggestion.

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 choosing.

Review Date: October 1999
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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