We all suffer headaches from time to time. They’re often brought on by dehydration, stress or diet. But reaching for painkillers is not always necessary – or helpful – warn experts. Try some of these tips and tricks first…
It’s known for its analgesic and sedative properties and a study published in medical journal European Neurology showed it helped relieve migraine pain better than a placebo.
In fact, 71 per cent of patients’ attacks were resolved or partially resolved by inhaling lavender.
Look for the word “essential” on the label and place a few drops on your palms or wrists or inhale from the bottle.
It can also be massaged into the temples or added to bath water, says Claire Kelly, aromatherapist at Indigo Herbs (indigo-herbs.co.uk).
The menthol in peppermint helps relax nerves that cause headaches.
Sprinkle a few drops of peppermint oil on a tissue and inhale deeply or wring out two wet peppermint teabags and place on your closed eyelids or forehead for five minutes.
Rest your head on a book:
Tension headaches often originate in the small muscles connecting the neck and the back of the head.
Positioning the knobbly part of the back of your head against the edge of the book and tucking your chin down towards your chest can stretch these small tight muscles and ease head pain.
Feverfew contains a range of biochemicals, including parthenolide, which combat the widening of blood vessels that occurs in migraine.
Studies suggest taking dried leaf capsules of feverfew every day may reduce the number of migraines in those who are prone to them.
Try Healthspan Feverfew Migraine Relief Capsules (£14.95 for 60; healthspan.co.uk).
Try a rolled-up hand towel in a pillowcase:
Use this if you wake up with a headache and neck pain, advises YouTube physical therapist Bob Schrupp.
Roll up a hand towel lengthways and insert it along the bottom length of your pillow, inside the cover, or wrap it around your neck.
This “fills the gap” to support the neck while sleeping and can make all the difference to how you feel on waking.
Top up your magnesium levels:
Evidence suggests deficiencies in certain nutrients may be a contributing factor in migraine attacks.
US researchers found that up to half of sufferers have low levels of magnesium.
Increasing your intake of magnesium-rich foods, such as green, leafy vegetables, and taking a supplement, has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
Visualise the pain away:
Relaxation techniques are effective for dealing with tension headaches, according to Sloan Sheridan-Williams, life coach and wellness consultant (sloansw.com).
“Simply lie still, breathe in and out slowly and either use affirmations or visualisations while you contract and relax various muscle groups, starting from the toes and working all the way up to the head,” she says.
“Visualise the pain as a colour or number and change the colour from blacks and greys to bright whites and yellows or count down from 10 to one over a few minutes.”
Another tip is to visualise pain as hot bars on an electric fire. Then imagine switching off each bar one by one and watch the glowing orange fading to a dull grey.
Stretch your neck:
Many headaches are created by tension in the neck muscles caused by hunching over desks or gadgets.
Gently stretching the neck can ease muscle tightness and pain.
“Drop your head down, tucking the chin in towards the upper chest,” says Lexie Williamson, author of The Stretching Bible.
“Lift your head and look slightly up. Now continue to nod your head slowly and smoothly.”
Snack on nuts:
Anecdotal evidence suggests a small handful of unpeeled almonds can ease a headache as they contain salicin, a natural pain reliever similar in chemical make-up to aspirin.
Nuts are also rich in magnesium, which works as a muscle relaxer.
Massage your head:
Even if there’s no one around to do it for you, doing it yourself will still help. Concentrate on your temples and apply pressure slowly in a circular motion.
With a firm, circular motion, massage the web of skin between the base of your thumb and forefinger.
Continue for several minutes then switch hands and repeat until the pain subsides.
Acupressure experts call this fleshy area trigger point LIG4 and maintain it is linked to parts of the brain in which headaches originate.
Down a big glass of water:
Dehydration is the most common cause of headaches, say experts.
Research published in the Journal Of Evaluation In Clinical Practice found people who suffer frequent headaches and who increased their water consumption by 1.5 litres a day had fewer severe attacks.
Take a vitamin B3 supplement:
“It acts as a vasodilator (dilates blood vessels) so may cause a flushing sensation or feeling of increased heat, but it can often stop a headache in the early stages,” says nutritionist Rosie Millen (missnutritionist.com).
One medical study showed the number of migraines were halved among people taking 100g of niacin (vitamin B3) daily, she reveals.
Deal with teeth grinding:
If you wake up with a headache, you may be clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth (bruxism) in your sleep.
Seeing your dentist to have a specially designed mouth guard made out of soft plastic can not only prevent ongoing damage to the teeth, but alleviate headaches and jaw pain, too.
Put your legs up against the wall:
This yoga pose improves circulation, slows the breath and calms the mind, advocates say.
Lie on the floor on your back with your bottom against a wall and stretch your legs upwards so you’re lying at a right angle. Chill.
Go hot and cold:
Heat and ice can be used to reduce the pain of headaches, according to the United States’ National Headache Foundation.
Its research found most migraine sufferers prefer cold packs, while those with tension or muscle-contraction headaches benefit from heat.
Cold constricts the blood vessels and reduces blood flow to provide relief while heat can relax tense muscles.
Try applying a cold pack to the forehead and temples and use heat packs on the neck and back of the head.
Change your breathing:
If your headache is stress related, relaxing breathing techniques can be one of the easiest natural remedies for headaches, say researchers at Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic in the United States.
Find a quiet space to sit or lie and breathe in for five seconds, then exhale for another five seconds.
Repeat as necessary, paying attention to how your body relaxes as your breathing gets slower and more rhythmic.
Grip a pencil between your teeth:
According to aesthetic specialist Dr Jane Leonard, the key is to simply hold the pencil in your mouth and not bite down on it.
Doing this apparently helps the muscles in the jaw relax and stop sending the spasms of stress and tension that cause pain in the head.
Make cherries your favoured fruit:
Compounds called anthocyanins—the same phytonutrients that give cherries their rich ruby colour— block inflammation and inhibit pain enzymes in a similar way to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, say experts.
Don’t chew gum:
“Research has shown that when a group of subjects who suffered headaches were told to stop chewing gum, 86 per cent of them showed a marked improvement in the reduction of head pain,” reveals Sloan.
Jump between the sheets:
German neurologists found that sex can lead to “partial or complete relief” of head pain because it triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
Wear your hair loose:
Plaits, chignons, high ponytails, tight-fitting hats and Alice bands can cause headaches if the hair is pulled back tight, straining the connective tissue in the scalp.
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