Skip to main content
Treating tension headaches


Here are 6 practical approaches that can help

If you experience frequent headaches, you may believe that your defense arsenal is limited to pain relievers. The truth is, you have many more options than you may realize.

There are a number of other treatment approaches that you can use effectively in combination with pain relievers to combat headache pain. Some headache specialists report that this combination can be more effective in relieving headache pain than either of these used alone.

This article will briefly review some of the most effective supplemental headache remedies.

Here are 6 things you can do on your own:

  • Apply heat or ice. Both can help relieve headache pain. Some doctors recommend heat before getting a headache and ice once a headache is in progress. Other people find heat to be effective during a headache. So if one method doesn't work for you, try the other. In general, heat increases blood flow to head and neck muscles and can help relax them. Ice reduces the sensitivity of pain nerve endings and can help override pain impulses.
  • Watch your posture. Poor posture can contribute to headaches. People who work in the same position for long periods of time are especially susceptible to this. If your job requires you to stay in a fixed position, be sure to stretch, stand up, move around and take breaks every hour or so.
  • Stretch your neck and shoulder muscles. Tightness in these areas commonly accompanies headaches. Loosening these muscles can stimulate circulation and help you relax, both of which may help relieve your headache. Stretching by Bob Anderson (Shelter Publishers, 1992) is an excellent resource that includes shoulder and neck stretches.
  • Get a massage. Neck and shoulder muscle massage improves circulation, relieves muscle tension, and can reduce the pain of a headache in progress. Done regularly, massage can also help to prevent headaches. Many YMCA's offer massage courses, as do holistic health centers. If you don't have someone who can give you a massage, you can learn self-massage. However, if you have head or neck problems, check with your doctor first.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Achieving a state of deep relaxation on a regular basis can increase your ability to handle stress, a leading contributor to tension headaches. Read The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson, M.D. (Avon Books, 1976) for more information and a review of various techniques.
  • Exercise regularly. Added to the list of well-known benefits of regular exercise is the fact that it can help to combat problem headaches. Exercise has a positive effect on brain chemistry that benefits many headache sufferers.

Other non-drug techniques require professional assistance. These include biofeedback, physical therapy and psychotherapy...even acupuncture and acupressure have been reported effective for some headache sufferers.

While medication plays an important role in treating headaches, no one — especially frequent headache sufferers — should ignore available options. If any of these approaches appeal to you, check them out, ask a friend who has had a positive experience with them or talk it over with your doctor.

Become a headache expert.
Sign up for the 5-week Headache Boot Camp