For many people in today’s busy world, headaches are a common occurrence. Sometimes these headaches are the result of a medical condition, but typically they are simply a result of too much stress, working too long without breaks, or just overdoing it in general.
To get relief you for your headache you might visit your doctor or occupational health nurse, but many headaches can be successfully managed by changing a few things about your life. (See Note at end of article)
While there are plenty of treatments to reduce headaches, including over-the-counter and prescriptions medications, they don’t always eliminate the symptoms.
In this article, we’ve put together 9 simple, science-based strategies that you can do yourself to help make your tension-type headaches a thing of the past, fast!
First, why does your head ache?
The best way to prevent a headache is to find out what triggered it. Keep a record of your headaches and write down what happened in the few hours before your head started to ache. By jotting down information whenever you have a headache, you may see patterns in when, where, and why you are having headaches and be able to identify your personal headache triggers. You can also see the triggers you can control (e.g. drinking too much) and those you can’t (e.g. the weather).
Consider the following:
- did you stare too long at your computer or smartphone?
- is your vision corrected to close or near 20/20?
- are your sinuses swollen?
- did you drink too much last night?
- are holding tension in your neck or shoulders?
- are you hungry and have low blood sugar?
- did you skip your morning latte?
- do you have an ear infection?
- did you hit your head?
- arguments at work?
Try these nine headache hacks
- Put on your shades. If light makes you wince in pain, you may be sensitive to bright or flickering lights. Although characteristic of migraine-type headaches, some people with tension headaches also find themselves light-sensitive
- Shut out the world. Sit in a quiet, dark room with your eyes closed and just relax for a bit.
- Use a heating pad or hot compress. When you have a tension headache, a heating pad placed on your neck or the back of your head can do the trick. if you have a sinus headache, take a warm shower or visit a steam room/sauna. The warm, most environment will help clear your sinus passages and relieve some pain.
- Have A Latte. If you regularly consume caffeine and something has prevented that recently, you may have a tension headache brought on by lack of caffeine. Having a tea, coffee, or an energy drink might help.
- Massage the headache away. Massaging your temples is a terrific way to not only ease the pain but to distract you from it as well. Place your index fingers on each side of your temples. Apply steady pressure and hold your fingers in this position for 10-15 second durations. Massage the area in a circular motion until the pain starts to gradually disappear.
- Practice Relaxation. Whether it’s stretches, yoga, meditation, or breathing deeply, relaxation works marvels when you are suffering the pain of the headache.
- Step away from stress. Literally step away from stress—leave a noise environment or leave work a little early if you can and ask your partner to take care of household chores for a period while you relax.
- Take Some Ginger. Taking ginger can help ease a headache. You can try a supplement or maybe brew some tea. Note: Health Canada states it is unsafe for pregnant women to drink more than three cups of ginger tea per day. It is unclear whether ginger is helpful for nausea caused by motion, chemotherapy or surgery.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration contributes to headaches because it depletes electrolytes in your body and these electrolytes are essential to healthy nerve and muscle function. Grabbing a glass of water is great, but if you want more flavour choose a beverage like Pedialyte or Gatorade.
Do you need more help?
If these kinds of lifestyle changes don’t help, over-the-counter medications such as ASA, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium can be effective (note that some medications are not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding).
If you have a severe headache or if your usual headache changes and is more severe or frequent you should visit your family doctor for a professional assessment and diagnosis.
In rare cases, a headache might be a sign of something more serious. It could be a condition that develops slowly, such as a brain tumor. Or it could be a medical emergency, like a stroke. Call 911 if the pain is sudden and severe or you notice any of these symptoms along with it:
- Numbness or weakness on one side of your face or body
- Garbled speech or confusion
- Trouble seeing
- Dizziness, loss of balance
The Bottom Line
When you have a headache or think one may be ready to rear its ugly head, there is often a great deal you can do to reduce how often and how bad your headaches are. By tracking your headache patterns, triggers, and whatever strategies help you manage your headaches, you will be prepared to prevent or manage future painful attacks.
Please note that the recommendations in this article are helpful for tension headaches, a type of headache characterized by:
- dull, aching head pain
- sensations of tightness or pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head
- tenderness on your scalp, neck and shoulder muscles
- mild to moderate intensity
- worsening with physical activity
- pulsing or throbbing
For help with migraine-type headaches, these techniques can help but more intensive strategies should be taken, under the direction of a physician.
- Canadian Headache Society. Treatment Guidelines. Retrieved November 1, 2018 from: https://headachesociety.ca/guidelines/American Academy of Neurology: “Migraine Headaches”
- American Migraine Foundation. Living with Migraine. Retrieved November 1, 2018 from: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/living-with-migraine/
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tension Headaches. Retrieved November 1\, 2018 from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/nervous_system_disorders/tension_headaches_85\,P00791
- WebMD. Migraine and Headaches Care Centre. Retrieved November 1, 2018 from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/nervous_system_disorders/tension_headaches_85,P00791P00791)
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