Relief from headaches

Here's how to find relief from splitting headaches

Whether it’s a dull thud, thud or an unbearable hammering—headaches consume you totally, making it difficult to concentrate on little else. They make you cranky and snappy, affecting your work and relationships. You would do anything to make that ache stop. Well, here are some ideas you can try …

Pop a pill

Pills are an easy solution to headaches and provide rapid relief. Mild headaches are usually treated with painkillers. For headaches associated with stress and anxiety, anxiolytic agents may be prescribed. For severe and chronic long-standing cases, doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressants.

Migraine-related headaches abate with anti-migraine agents. However, never take these drugs without medical supervision. Also, guard against medication overuse, which worsens matters.

Try t’ai chi

T’ai chi is an ancient Chinese form of low-impact, mind-body exercise. It works by rebalancing the body’s own healing capacity. The Chinese believe that pain is caused by an imbalance in the yin-yang equilibrium and t’ai chi helps restore that balance. [yin and yang are two opposing forces within the body]. T’ai chi helps reduce tension-related headaches, improving the person’s quality of life.

Get a massage

A head, neck and shoulder massage helps find relief in tension-related headaches, and, to some extent, in migraines. It decreases the frequency of migraine attacks.

Massage acts by increasing levels of serotonin, which alleviates pain. Those suffering from migraine have low levels of this hormone. So, a quick massage works wonders for releasing pain in the nerves.

Acupressure and acupuncture are often used to cure headaches as the techniques employ the principles of massage.

Eat and drink

A dip in the water levels in the body can scatter concentration and cause dizziness and headaches. Some people even get a headache if they miss their meal or are hungry. So, when you feel a headache coming on, eat or drink something as it keeps the body energised and helps combat headaches. If your headache is due to migraine, drink chamomile or peppermint tea.

Sleep over it

Getting a proper night’s sleep [around eight hours] eases the burden on the nerves of the brain, which are otherwise in overdrive when the person is awake and thinking. Sleep gives your body an opportunity to set right its activities gone haywire. It is hence, a great way to beat headaches.


Exercise increases blood circulation and helps more oxygen reach the brain. This eases headache and prevents it from returning. Exercise also increases the release of the feel-good hormone, serotonin and endorphins, which reduce pain.

Hot shower

Stand under a hot shower and allow the water to trickle down your back and neck muscles. This helps relax the tight muscles and increase blood flow.


Inhaling the aroma of oils like sandalwood, lavender, peppermint and eucalyptus soothe muscles, relieving reduce headaches. It also helps reduce stress, which aggravates headaches.

Go out in the open

The fresh air and change of scenery rejuvenates the system and releases any nerve or muscle tension, relaxing the pain.

Just breathe

Most headaches are because of stress and tension. Deep-breathing techniques of yoga and the concentration techniques of meditation are soothing. This helps clear the respiratory passage allowing enough oxygen to reach the brain. This, in turn, reduces the headache.

Laugh the pain out

Laughing, though may not be easy to do during a stinging headache, is a nice way to reduce pain. Laughter improves lung capacity, allowing more oxygen in the blood, which eliminates pain.

The above remedies used alone or in combination are effective in reducing headaches. For some people with severe and refractory headache, doctors prescribe newer treatments such as Botox injections. Stimulating system with a pacemaker [called peripheral nerve stimulator] is another technique used in patients with severe migraine or cluster headache who don’t respond to other cures.

Points to be noted

Don’t take persistent headache lightly. Treatment must be administered at the right time to treat headaches before the condition worsens. If you have a chronic headache, maintain a headache diary in which you record the details of the day and time, frequency and intensity of headaches. This will help the doctor pinpoint the exact cause of the headache and facilitate right treatment.

Quick facts

Types of headache

There are different types of headaches based on the cause of the pain, namely tension headache, migraine headache, sinus headache, cluster headache, hormone headache, organic headache, rebound headache and mixed headache syndrome. Of these, tension, migraine and cluster headaches are more common than the others.

Migraine is characterised by repetitive, one-sided headache, which is often prolonged and throbbing associated with vision or hearing sensitivity or giddiness. It often has an identifiable trigger factor like hunger, late nights, insomnia or food substances.

Headaches might be mild, moderate, severe or life-threatening. Based on the intensity and the duration, headaches can be either acute or chronic progressive.

Causes of headache

  • Emotional stress
  • Tension
  • Depression
  • Allergens
  • Certain foods
  • Strong odours
  • Pollution
  • Noise
  • Lighting
  • Eyestrain [Refraction error]
  • Neck or back strain due to bad posture
  • Alcohol
  • Changes in sleep patterns/lack of sleep
  • Excessive use of medication.

This was first published in the November 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Dr Preeti P Doshi, Incharge of Pain Clinic, Jaslok Hospital and Research Center and Secretary -ISSP Mumbai Branch.


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