Help Fight Head Pain With Self-Care
Learn how holistic techniques may help ease and reduce headaches and migraines
Head pain—either from a headache or migraine—can get in the way of daily life, leaving sufferers scrambling for a treatment to ease the hurt. While medication like Excedrin® can help relieve pain, there are other holistic strategies that can assist with alleviating discomfort.1 Self-care, which includes treatment approaches such as acupressure, acupuncture, massage, stress reduction techniques, and other daily practices, can play an important role in staying ahead of your headaches. Try these strategies, along with medication, for optimal headache relief.
Headache or migraine sufferers might find that applying physical pressure—known as acupressure—to a specific spot on their body called an “acupoint” can relieve head pain, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.2 Based on ancient Chinese medicine, these spots are often the site of tension that can be relieved through physical manipulation, although their location does not necessarily directly correlate with the location of your pain. For instance, one acupoint recommended for headache relief is found between the base of your thumb and index finger.
To apply acupressure:
- Take your right thumb and index finger and find the web-like space on your left hand between the base of your left thumb and index finger.
- Press firmly on either side of the skin at this point for 5 minutes. (If the direct pressure is too intense, you can also use a circular motion.)
- Repeat on your right hand.
Use acupressure several times throughout the day if you are experiencing a headache.2
This technique, also developed in ancient China, involves stimulating specific acupoints by inserting a very fine needle into the skin to alleviate pain.3 A 2016 meta-analysis of acupuncture used for migraine prevention (compared with a proven preventative drug) found that adding acupuncture to symptomatic treatment of attacks reduced the frequency of migraines.4 In the same review, three trials (out of 22) found that migraine frequency was cut in half in 57 percent of participants receiving acupuncture for three months.4
Massage therapy is another approach that may help. A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that when compared to a control group, massage participants who received weekly massages lowered their migraine frequency and raised their sleep quality, both during the weeks they received treatment and for the three weeks following.5
A change in your sleep routine is a common headache trigger, according to the American Migraine Foundation.6 Going to bed around the same time each night and waking up at a consistent hour will help reduce the chance of developing a headache.7 If you struggle to fall asleep, consider using a few drops of essential oils on your pillow. Certain oils are believed to support healthy sleep and can be linked to easing headaches.
When migraine patients in one International Journal of Yoga study received conventional care in combination with yoga therapy five days a week for six weeks, they experienced a greater decrease in their migraine frequency and intensity than study participants who only received conventional care.8 Find a yoga studio in your area and start with a basic hatha yoga practice to see if that helps ease your head pain and headache frequency. Already familiar with the practice? Try these yoga poses for headaches at home.
1. “Understanding Headache Treatment.” Edited by Neha Pathak, WebMD, 16 Feb. 2017, www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/understanding-headache-treatment.
2. “Acupressure for Pain and Headaches.” Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, 11 Sept. 2017, www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/acupressure-pain-and-headaches.
3. “Acupuncture and Migraine: Finding a Combination That Sticks.” American Migraine Foundation, 25 July 2017, www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/understanding-migraine/acupuncture-and-migraine-finding-a-combination-that-sticks/.
4. Linde, K, G Allais, et al. “Acupuncture for Preventing Migraine Attacks.” Cochrane, 28 June 2016, www.cochrane.org/CD001218/SYMPT_acupuncture-preventing-migraine-attacks.
5. Lawler, Sheleigh P., and Linda D. Cameron. “A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Massage Therapy as a Treatment for Migraine.” Oxford Academic | Oxford University Press, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 1 Aug. 2006, www.academic.oup.com/abm/article-abstract/32/1/50/4631717?redirectedFrom=fulltext.
6. Taylor, Fredrick R. “ABC's of Headache Trigger Management.” American Migraine Foundation, 30 May 2016, www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/understanding-migraine/abcs-of-headache-trigger-management/.
7. Rains, Jeanetta. “Sleep: Sleep Disorders and Headaches.” American Migraine Foundation, 16 Dec. 2016, www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/understanding-migraine/sleep/.
8. Kisan, Ravikiran, et al. “Effect of Yoga on Migraine: A Comprehensive Study Using Clinical Profile and Cardiac Autonomic Functions.” ResearchGate, International Journal of Yoga, July 2014, www.researchgate.net/profile/Talakad_Sathyaprabha/publication/264056358_Effect_of_Yoga_on_migraine_A_comprehensive_study_using_clinical_profile_and_cardiac_autonomic_functions/links/542fd4610cf27e39fa99836f/Effect-of-Yoga-on-migraine-A-comprehensive-study-using-clinical-profile-and-cardiac-autonomic-functions.pdf.