A bad headache is a day-ender. They can be unbearable, and seemingly never-ending, but fortunately, there are ways to prevent them. And when you do have a pounding headache and over-the-counter medicines don’t work, there are other options. The right pillows and correct posture can help prevent headaches, and things like acupuncture can help you get rid of the pain.
You can’t prevent all headaches, but you can definitely minimize them. Common headache triggers include stress, dehydration, consuming too much alcohol, and sensory overload.
Next time you get a headache, make note of the environment. Did you sleep in a different bed last night? Was there a stressful meeting at work? Knowing what triggered your headache can help you prevent another one.
1. Rest and relaxation
“Headaches are often a sign that your body needs a break,” Elizabeth Loder, MD, chief of the headache and pain division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and President of the American Headache Society, said in a Health article via Time.
Whether it’s from sensory overload or exhaustion, lying down, preferably in a dark or dim room, gives your body relief. While you rest, it’s important that you’re giving your neck and head proper support. Aches and pains that you wake up with are caused by less-than-ideal pillows, which in turn, causes muscle tension and headaches.
If the pain is already present and nagging, rest might not cut it. Massage might be your answer. Often overlooked, massage is one of the best ways to get rid of pain and tension, especially a rubdown that focuses on your temple, neck, and shoulders. One study found that migraine sufferers had less frequent pain and slept better during weeks they received massages than others who didn’t. If you’re prone to headaches, regular massages could be a valuable investment.
2. Check your posture and gaze
A slouchy posture can leave some serious kinks in your spine and throw your muscles out of wack, leading to headaches. If you work at a desk, make sure you’re sitting up straight and getting up to stretch at regular intervals. In the same respect, make it a point to look away from your computer screen throughout the day. Eye strain and poor posture both cause tension headaches. If a headache occurs two or more times a week for several months or longer, the condition is considered chronic.
A hot shower or gentle exercise, like yoga or walking, can help loosen up the tension. Make sure to drink plenty of water while you’re at it — dehydration contributes to muscle cramps.
3. Alternative therapies
Drugstores are filled with headache medicines, but if you want a more natural approach, there are plenty of other options.
Acupuncture has been shown to help prevent migraines as well as frequent tension-type headaches. One study published in BMJ followed participants for a whole year, and at the end of the year, researchers found those who received acupuncture experienced 22 fewer days with headaches, used 15% less medication, made 25% fewer visits to their doctor, and took 15% fewer sick days off from work.
Biofeedback, a technique that uses electronic sensors to monitor muscle tension, skin temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, and aims to teach patients how to control the initial contraction of blood vessels, has also been very successful for headache treatment and prevention. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends several herbs for headache prevention: 5-HTP, magnesium, and vitamin B2.
4. Foods to avoid
Along with the previously mentioned triggers, certain foods can cause or exasperate headaches: MSG; meat containing nitrates such as bacon, hot dogs, salami, and cured meats; and fermented or pickled foods.
For some people, food that causes inflammation, like sugar, gluten, or dairy, can also trigger headaches.