According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH), headaches are the most common form of pain. In fact, more than 9 in 10 adults experience a headache at some point in their life, whether it's from stress, a sinus infection, or hunger. Though most migraines and tension headaches can be treated with pain relievers, there are natural remedies you can turn to the next time your forehead and neck are throbbing. With the help of doctors and holistic health experts, we've narrowed down 12 that offer just as much relief as what you'd find over the counter.
"Studies show that magnesium is more effective than headache medications," says Chandwani. "Magnesium is intricately involved in several physiological processes of the body including muscle relaxation, blood pressure regulation, and nerve transmission. Foods rich in magnesium are green vegetables, nuts, and legumes. For example, a medium sized avocado contains 58 milligrams of magnesium."
"Modern research suggests that inhaling lavender essential oil can be an effective tool in addressing migraine headaches," cites
Kristin Koskinen, who is a registered dietitian and performance nutritionist for Mid-Columbia Ballet. "A 2012 study demonstrated that 92 out of 129 headache episodes were treated in part or completely when subjects smelled lavender essential oil for 15 minutes. Steeping a tablespoon of lavender buds in a cup of hot water for 8 to 10 minutes makes a tea that can promote relaxation and digestion."
"A simple self-care technique is to do a mustard foot soak," suggests author and integrative medicine clinician Leslie Korn, PhD, MPH. "Take a bucket of hot water so that you can place your feet, and cover up to your ankles with hot water. Add a tablespoon of ground mustard, then massage some olive oil around your feet and ankles and soak for 30 minutes. The heat from the water and the mustard will draw down the vascular congestion and release constricted blood vessels in the head, bringing blood flow to the feet and alleviating pain. In advance of settling into the soak, prepare a cup of feverfew tea to also reduce headaches.
"Rub some menthol cream over the tender knots in the neck, as well as the painful area of the head," says integrative physician and pain specialist Jacob Teitelbaum, MD. "The cool sensation is carried by nerve fibers that act almost like phone lines. These same fibers actually cause the pain, but the cooling effect of the cream will tie up the phone lines so the pain doesn't reach the muscles. Think of it as your nerves receiving busy signal."
Get More Sleep
"Experts recommend getting seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep to help reduce daily headaches," adds Adil Arabbo M.D., who is a family physician at DMC’s Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital.
Per NCBI's 2005 study, there's a direct correlation between your sleep patterns and migraines. Researchers found that 50 percent of its patients' migraines were triggered by interrupted sleep. In addition, results showed that those who slept less than six hours a night suffered from more frequent and severe headaches than individuals who slept longer.
One effective way to naturally relieve headaches is by giving yourself a massage using tennis balls.
"When massaging the neck region, take two tennis balls in a sock and tie the open end of the sock with the tennis balls next to each other," advises Chandwani. "Now lay down on a hard surface, such as a hard floor. Use the tennis balls to apply pressure at the back of the head where the base of head meets the neck."
"Caffeinated coffee can help reduce headache symptoms by constricting blood vessels," says Arabbo. "Studies suggest that drinking approximately four cups of brewed coffee daily appears to be safe for most healthy adults."
Backing up Arabbo claims, the National Headache Foundation states that caffeine contains vasoconstrictive properties that cause the blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow, aiding in head pain relief.
"Magnesium deficiency is very common in people who get frequent migraine headaches," says Arabbo. "Often times, neurologists recommend 600 milligrams of oral magnesium citrate per day to reduce both the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. However, there are different forms of magnesium and not all forms are as effective in treating headaches."
"Using a hot or cold compress can be a simple remedy to relieve and minimize headaches," suggests Michael Henri, MPthy, BHK. "Heat increases the blood flow to the muscles of the neck, whereas a cold compress reduces further inflammation by restricting blood vessels. Apply a cold or frozen compress to the neck or head for upwards of 15 to 20 minutes. For a hot compress, place it on your neck, just below your skull and cover the area across from underneath each ear for 10-15 minutes. Make sure you're in a comfortable position with a pillow to support the compress so your neck and body can relax. Alternatively, you can use a small water bottle filled with hot water, which can pull double duty as heat and trigger point therapy."
"Practicing yoga has been shown to help reduce the intensity, duration, and occurrence of daily headaches," adds Arabbo. "Yoga has been shown to help with flexibility and decrease tension when practiced regularly. My preference, as a physician, is to prescribe the least amount of medications and allow the body to heal itself naturally."
"Dehydration is a common cause of headaches," says physician Chirag Shah, MD, co-founder of Accesa Labs. "Often, when we're dehydrated, the pressure of the blood flowing to our brains is less than adequate, resulting in reduced brain performance and headache symptoms. Fortunately, in some people, drinking a glass or two of water can be helpful in improving a headache and more research is coming out to support this as a possible intervention. It is important to note that persistent or severe headaches may not respond to drinking water and are better handled with the help of a licensed medical provider."
"Keeping a food diary is extremely important," recommends Arabbo. "Certain foods may trigger headaches. Foods rich in Tyramine, Nitrates, and Nitrites, such as fermented cheeses and processed meats have been known to exacerbate headaches. Consider tracking what you eat and when the headaches occur."