Alternative Remedies for Headaches

What are Alternative Remedies for Headaches?

A variety of natural and home remedies for headaches are available. However, alternative therapies for headache, such as herbal remedies, are not regulated in the same way that drug therapies are. Their efficacy may not have been proven with scientific studies. Some people suggest, therefore, that any relief found through alternative therapies is due to “placebo effect” —that is, the patient believes the treatment will bring relief, so the patient experiences relief, even though the treatment itself accomplished nothing.

Whatever the underlying reason, the natural remedies for headache described below have helped some people find headache relief and successfully manage headaches. Not all patients respond to these treatments in the same way. However, they are all considered valid headache treatment options.

Relaxation Therapy and Headaches

Relaxation therapy can be used before and during a headache to relieve stress and anxiety. In some cases, relaxation techniques may prevent a headache. In others, it simply helps to make the pain more bearable by giving the patient a sense of control.

Some of the more common (and easy to learn) relaxation techniques include:

  • Abdominal breathing, which simulates the breathing of deep sleep;

  • Visualization, in which the patient imagines him/herself in a calm, pleasant, relaxed setting;

  • Regular aerobic exercise, which helps to release both physical and psychological stress and tension;

  • Body scanning, which consists of mentally scanning the body to find areas of tension; and

  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), which involves alternatively tensing, then relaxing, all of the major muscle groups in the body.

Hypnosis and Headaches

The word hypnosis is derived from the Greek word hypnos, which means “sleep.” Hypnosis is a state of focused concentration that mimics deep relaxation. It can be self-applied or induced by a hypnotherapist. During states of hypnosis, physical changes occur that are similar to those observed during states of deep relaxation. Typically, blood pressure drops, nervous system activity slows, and oxygen consumption decreases. Changes in brain wave activity are also evident. These physiological changes may provide headache relief.

Biofeedback for Headaches

Biofeedback is a method used to teach people how to consciously control bodily functions that are generally considered to be involuntary. People can learn to regulate muscle contraction, heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, and even skin temperature. Biofeedback training requires a professional trainer and specialized monitoring equipment in the beginning, but the goal of training is to develop techniques that can be used anywhere at any time.

During the training process, biofeedback sensors are applied to the skin. The sensors collect physical response data, such as muscle tension, and convert it to information that can be displayed on a screen. The patient uses the information provided to regulate his/her responses. Half of all migraine sufferers who learn biofeedback techniques and use them report a 50 percent improvement.

Acupuncture / Acupressure for Headaches

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points of the body in order to prevent or treat illness. Long a staple of Eastern medicine, acupuncture is winning converts here in the treatment of many types of chronic pain, including headache and migraine.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture works by correcting the balance of energy, or ch’i, in the body. For good health, this energy must flow freely through the body. Disruptions in ch’i can cause illness and pain. The insertion of acupuncture needles at specific points is meant to correct disruptions. Acupressure is a similar technique that doesn’t involve needles. Instead, the therapist applies concentrated pressure at specific points using his/her fingers.

Some researchers theorize that acupuncture and acupressure can be effective in relieving pain because these techniques stimulate the release of endorphins. Endorphins are natural hormones that block pain signals.

Chiropractic Treatment and Headaches

Many chiropractors claim they can treat headaches by traction of the neck, and this method is sometimes effective. Chiropractic treatment for headaches involves spinal manipulation, which can release pressure on the cervical nerve roots as they exit the cervical spine.

Food and Headaches

Many food-related headache triggers exist, including caffeine, alcohol, and overly-processed foods. You may be able to discover links between certain foods or additives and headache by keeping a headache diary. Write down information about what and when food and drink you consume, and note the onset of any headache symptoms. If you find any food-related headache triggers, you may be able to prevent or reduce headache pain by avoiding them.


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