The Headache Relief Guide

    A man smiling (BlackDoctor.org) — Migraines, tension headaches, sinus headaches, hormone headaches, cluster headaches, mixed headaches…reading about all the different types of headaches is enough to make your head hurt! According to the National Headache Foundation, over 45 million Americans suffer from some type of headache.

    So what are the best, and simplest, ways to get rid of them?

    Relaxation

    Best for: Soothing stress before a headache starts.

    How they work: Simple deep breathing and stretching (neck and shoulder rolls, in particular) relax tense muscles that trigger headaches, says Sheena Aurora, M.D., the director of the Swedish Headache Center, in Seattle. A pulse-point balm with aromatherapeutic ingredients, like peppermint, can help, too.

    Remember: Stretching also improves poor posture, another possible cause of headaches.

    Cold or Heat Therapy

    Best for: Medicine-free relief from minor tension headaches (which, unlike migraines, aren’t debilitating).

    How it works: Experts aren’t sure precisely why each therapy is effective, but cold slows blood flow and reduces inflammation, and heat increases blood flow; both of these may ease pain. “Go with your personal preference,” says Jason Rosenberg, M.D., the director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center at Bayview, in Baltimore. Apply a cold compress (a fabric-wrapped cold pack stays cooler longer) or a heating pad wherever you hurt; limit treatment to 15 minutes at a time.

    Remember: You can also alternate the two in five-minute increments. Start with cold, then switch to heat.

    Caffeine

    Best for: Mild tension headaches.

    How it works: “One way that caffeine may help is by blocking brain receptors to adenosine, a neurotransmitter that can cause blood vessels to dilate and create pressure,” says Rosenberg. Consuming caffeine constricts those vessels, relieving pain. Sip a cup of coffee at the first sign of a headache.

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