What can I do to ease headache symptoms?

You can certainly take action to ease your headache symptoms. Start by taking the medications your doctor recommended. You can also use several nondrug approaches to lessen your headache pain either as an alternative to medication or in combination with it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Take a deep breath and tighten the muscles in your head, neck, and jaw for 5 to 10 seconds. Then release the muscles while you slowly exhale.
  • Place 4 fingers alongside your temples and massage firmly, using a circular motion, for at least 1 minute.
  • Feel your head for points that seem to be sensitive to pressure. Press these points firmly for 5 to 10 seconds, then release. Repeat this several times. This can release the tension in your facial muscles.
  • Press the point below the nail of your middle finger on the hand that is on the same side of your body as your pain. If the pain is on both sides, use the pressure points on both hands.
  • Open your mouth wide as if you are yawning. This helps reduce jaw tension.
  • Apply a warm (not hot) compress to the back of your neck to relieve tension. Or let warm water in the shower run over your neck, back, and shoulders.
  • Roll your pillow into a cylinder and place it under your neck for support. Then roll your head from side to side to stretch out your neck and shoulder muscles. You can also let your head hang over the edge of the pillow to relax your neck muscles.
  • Get some exercise. A brisk walk can relax you, and the extra oxygen can also help.
  • Stop drinking coffee. Caffeine is known to cause headaches for some people. But stopping all at once can actually bring on a headache. For more on caffeine, see Could caffeine trigger my headaches?
  • Avoid loud sounds or music and bright or glaring lights, which may trigger migraine headaches.
  • Try an ice pack on your forehead. Migraine headaches sometimes respond to cold compresses.
  • Check your posture. Poor posture can aggravate the muscles of your back, neck, and head.
  • Laugh. Laughter releases tension. It also triggers the release of pain-reducing chemicals called endorphins.

How can medications help?

There are many different medications you can use to relieve or prevent headaches. The kind of medication your doctor prescribes depends on your headache type and your response to different drugs.

What other techniques can I use?

You may want to add one or more commonly used alternative treatments to your management plan. One benefit is that these techniques may help you control your stress and anxiety, both of which may contribute to headaches. These techniques may also help reduce pain during a headache attack. But remember, before you start using any alternative treatment for your headaches, talk with your doctor to be sure you understand what, if any, effect it will have on the rest of your treatment plan. For instance, will it interfere with the way the medications you take are supposed to work? What should you do if your headaches get worse after you start the alternative treatments? Of course, the final choice about which methods you use to manage your headaches is always yours. But your doctor can make sure you have the information you need to make that choice wisely.

To find out more about alternative approaches that might help you control your headaches, see What do I need to know about alternative and complementary headache therapies?

You will also find it helpful to develop skills to reduce stress and relax. For more information about how to manage stress and relax, see Does the way I respond to stress have an effect on my headaches?

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