Now You Can Relax: Natural Cures for Tension Headaches
by Sárka-Jonae Miller
Tension headaches are most common kind, so chances are that either from stress, overexertion, or a really bad night’s sleep you’ve experienced the sensation of feeling like someone put your head in a vice. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that as many as 78 percent of people have experienced these headaches. A tension headache is caused by a simple contraction of muscles in the skull, but it doesn’t take complicated to cause massive discomfort. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between suffering and popping pills. There are many gentle, natural ways to fight tension headaches, though going back to bed or taking a relaxing bubble bath aren’t bad ideas either.
Tension Headaches and Natural Oils
There are several essential oils associated with relaxation and muscle pain, but if you’re head is really hurting the number one oil of choice is peppermint oil. Peppermint not only helps to relax the muscles, it also creates a cooling sensation that numbs the pain. Smelling peppermint oil might stimulate whole-body relaxation, but for a tension headache apply it to the area around your temples and forehead following the hairline. Research suggests this oil may work as well as Tylenol for pain relief. Just don’t get it into your eyes or you’ll have a new source of pain to deal with.
Oils such as menthol and clove are associated with reducing pain, but instead of tracking down an mixing a bunch of oils together consider picking up some Tiger Balm. The inexpensive clear ointment is a favorite with many athletes for treating muscle pain, and according to the University of Maryland Medical Center it works for tension headaches too. Simply rub some along the hairline and your headache pain may decrease. Avoid getting Tiger Balm in your hair though, unless you like the wet look.
Supplements for Tension Headaches
While natural oils can minimize the pain in your head, supplements can work internally to make you feel better. Some evidence suggests that butterbur and feverfew fight migraines, and some people believe that both natural substances could be beneficial for tension headaches. Unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a known allergy, why not do your own study and see if one of these supplements works for you? If your doctor approves, of course.
A 50 to 75 milligram dose of butterbur extract twice a day or between 50 to 80 milligrams of feverfew taken once daily may treat or even prevent tension headaches. Feverfew is not safe to take with blood thinners.
Another supplement you may want to stock up on is vitamin D. Not everyone gets enough from the sun, especially people who live in areas with little natural sunlight. At least one study found a relationship between reduced headaches and supplementing with vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D deficiency is a suspected cause of headaches.
Acupuncture and Biofeedback
There are many non-pharmaceutical ways to treat headaches, a main one being activities that promote relaxation. For some people, hypnosis or guided imagery work. You can even buy audio programs to listen to in the privacy of your own home. If you want something a little more scientific, there’s always biofeedback. Using harmless sensors, an expert in biofeedback can teach you to control muscle tension, and you’ll know it’s working not only from how you feel but from data that tells you what your muscles are doing. Biofeedback systematically teaches you how to relax the muscles causing your tension headaches at will, which makes a lot of sense really if you think about how easy it is to relax your shoulders or let go of tension in any area of your body with a little practice.
Acupuncture could also be a drug-free answer to tension headaches. Research hasn’t been conclusive but some evidence suggests that acupuncture does decrease pain from tension headaches, both chronic tension headaches and ones that come and go.
Of course, all of these cures for tension headaches will only go so far if you continue to trigger the headaches. Certain food additives and medications can cause tension headaches, so figuring out what those are and abstaining from them could cure your headache. It’s a good idea to avoid additives anyway. If you have a habit of clenching your jaw, straining your eyes, maintaining one position with your head for prolonged periods, or skipping meals, you might want to look into help in breaking that bad habit. Smoking could also contribute.
Basically, everything you shouldn’t be doing anyway if you want to be healthy could lead to tension headaches. So, exercise regularly, eat well, get adequate sleep, and focus on stress management if you want to cure and prevent tension headaches.