Headaches can hit without notice, and multiple types may require different treatments. But there are simple headache cures you can try—strategies to relax tense muscles and stress, both of which can trigger headaches.
More complex headache cures include injections you may more commonly associate with cosmetic procedures. There are a number of other tactics you can try, too, to relieve headache pain.
1. Balance your caffeine intake
Too much caffeine can cause or worsen headaches—but if you’re a regular coffee drinker, stopping cold turkey also can cause a headache. So try to keep your coffee intake to one or two cups a day, and if you currently have several, cut back gradually by switching to half-caff. And keep in mind that many soft drinks contain caffeine, so watch your intake. (See also our post “How to Avoid That Caffeine Headache.”)
2. Top up on fluids
This is one of the easiest headache cures to try: Drink more water. Ensuring you take in sufficient fluids can not only help to stop a dehydration headache in its tracks, but, studies show, drinking six cups of water more than you usually drink during the day could mean fewer instances of tension headaches and migraines and less severe migraine symptoms.(See also “Why Is Drinking Water Important? Six Reasons to Stay Hydrated.”)
3. Ease TMJD
Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD) affects the jaw joint and is typically accompanied by frequent headaches (particularly tension headaches). If you notice popping, clicking and/or grating sounds when you open your mouth wide (for example, during a dental exam), or your jaw temporarily locks if opened wide, you may have TMJD. The condition tends to be more common in people who clench or grind their teeth and also in those who have arthritis, but in many cases the cause isn’t clear. If you have TMJD, wearing a simple biteguard at night can help—ask your dentist about having one fitted. Another handy strategy if you think you may be clenching your jaw is to hold a pencil between your teeth without biting down on it—this simple act relaxes the jaw joint and can stop a tension headache from progressing.
4. Perfect your posture
It’s vital to maintain proper alignment from your head down through your body. If your head juts forward, its weight—a good eight pounds or so—pulls on the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Not only can this contribute to migraine symptoms and a tension headache, it also can result in upper back pain. Try to keep your head lined up over your shoulders, and your shoulders lined up with your hips.
5. Watch your diet
Migraine symptoms especially may be influenced by food—culprits include chocolate, aged cheese, processed meats, or foods containing monosodium glutamate (commonly used in Chinese food). Alcohol—particularly red wine—also can trigger migraine symptoms, as can dehydration.
6. Try Botox injections for migraine
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared botulinum toxin (Botox) as a treatment for chronic migraine symptoms in 2010, after people who were having the drugs for other reasons reported fewer migraines. It isn’t clear how Botox works to relieve migraine symptoms, but it may inhibit the release of neurotransmitters linked to the central nervous system. In order to qualify for Botox treatment for migraine, you need to have migraine symptoms for at least four hours on 15 or more days each month. Most people whose migraine symptoms are helped by Botox need the injections every 12 weeks. Botox has not been found to help prevent a tension headache or cluster headache.
7. Try essential oils
Mix three drops of peppermint essential oil in a teaspoon of carrier oil and use it to massage your temples. Lavender essential oil also may help—put a few drops on a tissue and inhale it, or dilute it in a carrier oil, as with the peppermint oil, and use it to massage your temples. (Don’t ingest either oil.)
A 10-minute meditation is one of the easiest headache cures, since it can help to calm stress. Sit with your eyes closed, and your arms resting on your thighs. Inhale through your nose and then slowly exhale and imagine yourself breathing out any tension. It can help to silently repeat a mantra (such as “ohm”) as you exhale.
9. Get an acupressure massage
A professional will apply pressure to these areas of your face (one minute for each area): the area between your eyebrows; just above the inner corner of each eye and below your eyebrow; the area above the top of your ears (use your fingertips to form a triangle aiming towards the back of the top of your skull); a spot at each side of your nostrils; each side of the back of the neck; tops of the shoulders. Other acupressure spots that may help headaches include the skin between the base of your thumb and the base of your forefinger, and a corresponding spot between your big toe and first toe. You can also give yourself an accupressure massage following these guidelines.
Originally published 2016 and regularly updated.