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Diseases & Conditions

Self-Care Treatments for Headaches

(Also Called 'Self-Care Treatments for Headaches - Care & Treatment')

Here are some ways you can treat headaches yourself, without medicine:
  • 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; or 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.

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?

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. Taking these products more often than suggested by labeling instructions may make your headaches worse. These types of headaches are called rebound headaches or medication overuse headaches. When the pain reliever wears off, you may have a withdrawal reaction. This prompts you to take more, which leads to another headache and the need to take more medication. This cycle can result in daily and severe headaches.

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, including:

  • Eating well-balanced meals and snacks at about the same times 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.
References

© Copyright 1995-2012 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/10/2012...#9654