It’s the rare person who doesn’t experience an occasional headache. But if you’re plagued by frequent tension headaches, you might think there has got to be something you can do beyond regularly reaching into your medicine cabinet.

Sure, pain relievers can work wonders. And, I’m here to steer you to some good options. But fortunately there are a lot of other things you can try to prevent headaches or to nip them in the bud once they’ve begun. Relaxation and stress management are key. Today, many hospitals offer classes in the community to teach you basic relaxation training.

Deep-breathing exercises and meditation are two ways to bring relaxation into your daily schedule. Even just 10 minutes a day can make a difference.(1) Other alternatives may also help ease headaches – either alone or combined with medication. For example, research supports the use of massage, acupuncture, and tai chi, which is a Chinese exercise system that uses slow, meditative movements.(2)

Think about other ways to better manage your stress. You know yourself best. Do you find yourself always rushing from one activity to the next? Squeezing yet another commitment onto your calendar? Then, try out the sound of the word, “no.” Or, do you keep your bottom stuck to your seat and eyes glued to your computer screen throughout the entire day? Then, try taking hourly stretch breaks or five-minute walks around the block. Or, have you found that you’re taking yourself a little too seriously these days? Then, watch a sit-com or call that friend who knows just how to keep you in stitches. Laughter releases substances that can help you relax and feel more positive. (1,3)

As is often the case, prevention – whether for headaches or other ailments – takes you back to the basics, to common-sense self-care. For example, you can ease muscle tension with a hot bath or shower, warm compress, or heating pad set on low. Some people also find that it helps to apply ice wrapped in a cloth to sore neck and shoulder muscles. (1)

Here are a few other pointers:

  • Make sure you drink enough water and don’t skip meals. Breakfast offers a big bonus here. A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables gives you more energy. And with more energy, you’re better able to manage stress.(3)
  • Exercise to release pain-blocking signals to your brain. Start new exercise regimens slowly, though. Going too fast or too hard can trigger certain types of headaches.
  • Get in the habit of relaxing before bedtime and go to bed at the same time each night. Remember that certain medications – including headache meds – can interfere with sleep.
  • Go easy on the caffeine. Heavy caffeine use can prompt headaches and irritability.
  • Kick the “nic stick.” As if you needed another health reason to quit smoking, right? Well, here are two more: Cigarettes also can trigger headaches and interfere with your liver’s ability to break down headache medications.(1)

Need more ideas? I’m right here!

Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice.  You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.  

1.                  Mayo Clinic: “Tension-type headaches: Self-care measures for relief.” Available at: Accessed March 6, 2012.

2.                  NCCAM: “Headaches and CAM.” Available at: Accessed March 6, 2012.

3.                  Mayo Clinic: “Headaches: Reduce stress to prevent the pain.” Available at: Accessed March 6, 2012.