Natural Remedies for Headaches

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Headaches appear at the worst possible moment, don’t they? Head pain puts a damper on everything, whether you’re getting ready for a long day of chasing the littles around or finally getting some you-time.

Headaches can pop up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, things that cause headaches can overlap, making it difficult to prevent them. But the good news is that natural remedies for headaches can help relieve head pain, even if you don’t always know what’s causing it.

While tension headaches are one of the most common headache types, you can also get hormone headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, and more. Headaches can be an indication of a stroke, so if you are having the worst headache of your life, you will want to call your doctor or 911. 

First, we’ll cover the different types of headaches and their causes. Then we’ll explore several natural headaches remedies. I like to have several options to try if I get hit with a headache. Life doesn’t stop just because my head hurts. While I believe strongly in self-care and putting my health first, I also don’t want to spend my time lying around with a headache.

Types of Headaches

There are different kinds of headaches. It’s easy to view them as poorly-timed irritations. But headaches can be messengers. They can indicate that your body needs something, like water or nutrients. Or they can tell you that you have too much of something, like stress or caffeine.

Headaches can also happen when you have hormone changes or imbalances or other health conditions, like allergies. Approximately one in 20 adults has a headache nearly every day. More than 29 million Americans are affected by migraine disorders. Three out of four who have migraines are women.

If you see a doctor for headaches, they tend to group them by how you describe them. This includes other symptoms that may occur with them, where the pain is, and how long they last.

We usually only care about how quickly we can get rid of headaches. I get it. Head pain is awful and never convenient. But before you medicate the pain away, considering what may have caused it can help prevent it from coming back! I’m a big fan of addressing the root cause of health issues.

If you find yourself suffering from a headache, chances are it falls under one of these two common categories.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type and may also be called stress headaches or tension-type headaches (TTH). It can feel like pain or pressure anywhere in the head, scalp, or neck.

Muscle tightness often causes tension headaches, which can be triggered by many things, including:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Injury
  • Alcohol use
  • Too much caffeine or a sudden decrease in usual caffeine intake
  • Sinus infection
  • Cold or flu
  • Teeth grinding or jaw clenching
  • Eyestrain
  • Fatigue
  • Overexertion

While tension headaches can happen to anyone, they are most common in women and may run in families. You can get tension headaches at the same time as other headache types, like migraine.

These headaches are typically felt all over the head and neck, whereas migraines are usually localized to one spot or side of the head.

Migraines

Migraine headaches are also common. Sometimes people use the term “migraine” to refer to any head pain, but migraines are a specific type of headache. Migraine pain tends to be localized to one side of the head or intensely in one spot, not felt all over like tension headaches.

Migraines usually come with other symptoms like nausea, light sensitivity, and severe enough pain that you may not be able to function. Migraines are often recurring. Nearly 12% of Americans get migraines, and researchers believe there is a genetic link.

Migraines have some similar triggers as headaches. But they may also be caused by other factors, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Hormone changes
  • Strong smells
  • Loud noises
  • Bright lights
  • Lack of sleep
  • Weather changes
  • Too much physical activity
  • Medications
  • Caffeine (too much or too little)
  • Skipped meals
  • Tobacco and alcohol
  • Certain foods (chocolate, cheese, MSG, fermented foods, yeast, cured foods)

Other Headaches

There are also other types of headaches that include cluster headaches and secondary headaches. Cluster headaches are the most intense headache type but also the least common. Secondary headaches are also less common and caused by serious medical concerns, like traumatic brain injury or vascular problems. A secondary headache will likely come on very suddenly and be associated with other symptoms of concern. If you ever get a sudden, severe headache, the safest option is to get emergency medical care.

How Can You Fix Headaches?

If you only get occasional headaches, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between factors that could have caused it. Were you short on sleep the night before? Maybe you didn’t drink enough water yesterday? Are your hormones changing?

Recurring headaches may be easier to tie to a health-related cause but not always! There are a lot of reasons why your head can hurt. But always reaching for over-the-counter painkillers isn’t a solution. In the short term, they can work. But taking NSAIDs (like ibuprofen or aspirin) long-term can damage your gut barrier. This could trigger a leaky gut and cause all sorts of additional problems, like an autoimmune disease. I have Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, and while I’ve worked hard to get my health to a good place, you don’t want to end up with an autoimmune disorder if you can prevent it.

Natural Remedies for Headaches (That Work)

The good news is that there are many ways to naturally address head pain, even migraines. With a bit of experimentation, you can find the home remedies that work best for you. You may need to use a few natural remedies together to help in some cases.

The Internet is full of natural remedies for headache symptoms, but evidence backs these easily accessible options.

Hydration and Electrolytes

One of the most easily overlooked headache issues is dehydration. But you can actually get hydration-related headaches even if you drink plenty of water. This is especially true if you are low in electrolytes.

Electrolytes help your cells get nutrients where they need to go. While most people are not short on sodium, other electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and calcium may be imbalanced. This can lead to headaches and other issues.

Diarrhea, vomiting, and sweating are the most common reasons why your electrolyte balance could be off. But drinking a lot of water without electrolyte replacement could also cause problems.

You can balance your electrolytes in several ways.

  • Eat foods that are rich in potassium, like bananas and potatoes.
  • Eat foods that are rich in magnesium, like pumpkin seeds and cashews.
  • Eat foods that are rich in calcium, like sardines or yogurt.
  • Take an electrolyte supplement, usually available as a powder or liquid that you can add to your drinking water.
  • Drink a sports beverage, although most of these contain sugar, artificial coloring, and other ingredients you may wish to avoid.

My favorite way to get electrolytes is with these electrolyte packs that don’t have any questionable ingredients.

Magnesium

Related to electrolytes, since it is one, magnesium is a crucial mineral nearly half of the population is deficient in. Magnesium plays a role in how your muscles function. If you don’t have enough of it, you may be more prone to things like muscle cramps or tense muscles. This could contribute to tension headaches.

You can support healthy magnesium levels in many ways, but if you want magnesium as a headache remedy, I like this supplement or this one, take a magnesium bath of Epsom salt, or magnesium bicarbonate are your best bets.

Essential Oils

Essential oils have many medicinal properties. Humanity has used them for hundreds of years to address many ailments, including headaches.

Not all essential oils work the same. Most essential oil headache remedies use the following, either individually or as blends:

  • Peppermint oilPaired with a carrier oil, peppermint oil can be rubbed directly on the temples, neck, or wherever headache pain is present. (Do not put in or around the eyelids.) Peppermint oil works for tension and migraine headaches.
  • Lavender oilLavender has a calming effect on the nervous system. Commonly used for stress relief, lavender oil is also soothing for head pain when inhaled or used for aromatherapy. You may apply lavender essential oil topically with a carrier oil.
  • Basil essential oil – When paired with acetaminophen, studies found higher concentrations of topical basil essential oil to improve and even prevent migraine pain more effectively than placebo.
  • Rose essential oil – Topical application of rose essential oil was able to decrease the pain of certain migraine types within 30 minutes of application, although other migraine types saw no benefit.
  • Ginger essential oil – A friend of mine swears by this essential oil for headaches that has natural antihistamine properties. 

If you plan to use essential oils for headache relief, make sure that you find a carrier oil that works for you. Some common carrier oils, like almond, can be problematic for people with allergies. Be sure to do a test of your carrier oil before using it. When you already have a headache, the last thing you want is an allergic reaction to your remedy!

Good carrier oils for essential oils include coconut oil, jojoba, and almond.

Chiropractic Adjustments

Chiropractic care can be a lifesaver depending on the type of pain you are experiencing. It can be great for headaches, especially if they are tension-related. But even migraines might respond to chiropractic adjustments. National survey data shows that a high number of chiropractic patients are people who have headache or migraine complaints.

Your nervous system is highly sensitive. If any of your bones or muscles put pressure on a nerve anywhere, it could translate into head pain or muscular pain elsewhere.

Research shows plenty of positive support for chiropractic care in migraines. A case study found that chiropractic treatment helped eliminate recurring migraines in a patient, and at the 6-month mark, she was still migraine-free.

Smaller case study groupings show the benefits of integrating chiropractic care with traditional neurological treatment for headache disorders. Research like this hopefully paves the way for larger studies. In the meantime, it can illustrate how beneficial chiropractic care can be for patients as an alternative to pharmaceutical interventions.

Chiropractors are also a wealth of knowledge on natural health remedies. They may offer additional recommendations for taking care of headaches.

Proper Stretching

If you sit at a computer a lot, you may experience muscle tension or eye strain that causes headaches. Or maybe you are a busy mom, and your exercise time is squeezed between diaper changes, school drop-offs, and grocery store runs. If you exercise regularly but don’t take the time to stretch properly, you could still end up with tense muscles.

Whether you have symptoms of “text neck,” where you spend too much time looking down at your phone, or whether you just generally need to limber up, tense, stiff muscles can be a common trigger for head pain.

Working proper stretching into your daily routine could be an easy way to help loosen up and address head-related tension. Yoga is a great way to incorporate stretching into a fitness routine. But you don’t have to do anything formal. Simply standing up more frequently, bending, lengthening your back, and relaxing your shoulders can all help to alleviate the build-up of tension in your muscles.

Research shows that regular stretching routines can decrease headache frequency and pain intensity by nearly 70%.

Feverfew

Feverfew is an herb often called “medieval aspirin,” and it’s been used for centuries as a topical pain reliever. Research, while mixed, shows some benefits for headache and migraine relief. The primary benefits are the reduction of migraine frequency as well as the ability to reduce sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, and general pain.

Feverfew is not safe for pregnancy and may cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to ragweed.

If you want to try feverfew for headache relief, I like this brand of feverfew. Be sure to check with your doctor first to ensure there are no interactions with other medications or supplements you take. Only take feverfew as indicated on the supplement label or as your healthcare provider directs.

The Bottom Line

There are many natural ways to address headaches and migraines. If you get frequent headaches, especially if natural remedies do not seem to help, you should consult a neurologist. Nothing replaces personalized medical advice. But sometimes, all you need is a great home remedy with zero side effects.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Pfleghaar, D.O., FACEP, ABOIM. Dr. Jennifer is a double board-certified physician and is now working in Emergency Medicine and has an office in Ohio practicing Integrative Medicine. As always, this is not personal medical advice, and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Have you ever tried natural remedies for headaches or migraines? What worked for you?

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