Headaches can strike at any time and in any place, and they often come out of nowhere. Some people experience very infrequent, mild headaches while others suffer from chronic migraines and long-lasting headaches that pop up quite regularly. The pain and frustration of a headache often makes it impossible to focus on work, family or whatever else you choose to do with your day. They require immediate attention not only for pain relief, but also for peace of mind.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain meds may help with headaches, but they only provide temporary relief and don’t address the root cause of the problem. If you’re looking for natural ways to help relieve headaches, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve assembled information on different types of headaches and what causes them and have also offered home remedies, natural treatments and other habits that can help eliminate headaches and prevent them from coming back, or at least help to ensure they’re less frequent and less painful.
Jump straight to Home Remedies for Headaches or the following sections:
- Types of Headaches
- Additional Tips for Headache Relief
- Common Causes of Headaches
- FAQs About Headaches
Types of Headaches
The large majority of headaches – though painful and annoying – are harmless. They are often the result of your body reacting to stress, different types of foods, allergies, fatigue, nutritional deficiencies and more. Below are the most common types of headaches:
Tension headaches (also called Stress Headaches) are by far the most common headaches for adults and chances are you’ve experienced several of these in your lifetime. You will experience tightness around your forehead and also around the back of your head – sort of like a band of pain wrapped around your head. The pain can be described as throbbing and usually lasts for around 30 minutes, but can sometimes drag on over the course of a whole day.
Sinus headaches are also very common and occur when your sinuses are clogged due to a cold, allergies or other related illness. In short, when your sinuses are inflamed, their ability to drain mucus is inhibited, causing a buildup of pressure within your nasal cavity that in turn gives you a headache. The telltale sign of a sinus headache is the feeling of pressure around your nose and face that gets worse when bending forward or down.
Cluster headaches are far less common than sinus or tension headaches. They can be described as causing sudden, extreme pain in specific areas of the head. They come on strong and can last anywhere from 5 minutes to over an hour. Cluster headaches typically come and go over the course of days, weeks or even months. Unfortunately, there is no direct, known cause for these types of headaches.
Rebound headaches are caused by the overuse and over-reliance on over the counter pain meds. If you’re regularly taking pain meds to suppress the symptoms of a headache, chances are they will eventually trigger rebound headaches when you’re not taking the meds. You can see how this can quickly lead to an ongoing cycle of relying on pain meds for relief.
Migraines are one of the most intense types of headaches you can experience. They are characterized by severe head pain and often accompanies by a sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine headaches can also cause eye pain, nausea and even vomiting. Migraine sufferers commonly describe a “pounding” feeling on one side of the head as primary symptom.
Home Remedies for Headaches
1. Homemade Juice
By now, you should have heard plenty about the amazing benefits of consuming raw fruit and vegetable juice on a regular basis. Juicing is the most effective, quickest delivery system to get your body a vast amount of key nutrients it needs to function at the highest level possible. Relieving a headache is just one of the many benefits of juicing, and we’ve tailored a recipe for you below::
- 6 kale leaves
- Approximately 1 thumb size of ginger root
- 2 sticks of celery
- ½ lemon
- ½ pineapple
- 1 teaspoon of raw honey
- 1 apple
Mix all ingredients into your juicer and start juicing! These ingredients should yield between 8-10 ounces of juice which is equivalent to 1 serving.
If you don’t have a juicer of your own, we recommend Blueprint Juices. Although they’re one of the most expensive on the market, they have 100% organic ingredients and are the best-tasting, in my experience of trying many different brands of juice.
2. Homemade Ginger Tea
Ginger has a long list of health benefits and a long history as being a key ingredient in a number of natural remedies. If you don’t feel like chewing on a piece of raw ginger but still want all the benefits it has to offer, then this simple ginger tea recipe is for you.
- 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
- Juice from ½ of lemon
- 2 cups of water
- Mint leaves
- Cinnamon stick
- Raw honey
At the end of the day, all you really need is ginger and water, but all the other ingredients will add some great flavor! Bring your 2 cups of water to a boil and then add in the grated ginger. If you’re using any of the other ingredients (except the lemon) add them in with the ginger. Turn off the heat after you add everything in and let it sit for around 5 minutes. Strain all the ingredients out and pour the remaining liquid into your favorite tea cup. At this point, you can add in the lemon juice for extra flavor.
3. Lemon Juice Drink
Squeezing a lemon into a glass of water is something I do first thing every morning. Not only does it taste great, but it’s great for you, too. Lemon helps to balance your body’s pH by lowering acidity and does wonders when it comes to detoxifying the liver. And what do you know, when you combine it with some Himalayan crystal salt, it’s also an amazing natural treatment for headaches!
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons of Himalayan crystal salt
- 12 oz. glass of water
Making this drink is very simple. Combine the juice from your lemon into a 12 oz. glass of room temperature water. Next, add the 2 teaspoons of Himalayan crystal salt and stir everything together. Drink up and enjoy the benefits of this natural liquid remedy for headaches.
4. Spinach Salad
If you want headache relief and a healthy boost of magnesium and other key nutrients, opt to make your next salad with spinach instead of lettuce (or at least include spinach in addition the lettuce). Spinach has been shown to lower blood pressure and also alleviate headaches and tension.
- 2 cups of raw spinach leaves
- ¼ cup of sliced almonds
- ½ cup of dried apricots
Toss ingredients together in a salad bowl and add a healthy dressing of your choice. A raspberry vinaigrette or light olive oil & vinegar dressing pairs very nicely with this salad recipe.
5. Fruit Salad
One of the biggest causes of headaches is dehydration. Often times when I find myself with a headache, I’ll drink a few glasses of water and most of the time my headache goes away pretty quickly. But an even better way to hydrate your body is through the consumption of fresh fruit – which is loaded with water, among other healthy ingredients.
I chose my 3 favorite fruits (which also happen to contain a lot of water) for this salad, but feel free to use your imagination or whatever fruits you have on hand. Simply chop up the fruit into manageable pieces and mix together in a bowl. Not only will you get a boost of energy from the nutrients in the fruit, you’ll also quickly hydrate your body which will help to relieve certain types of headaches.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar can be considered a “superfood” due its many healing properties and medicinal uses including its ability to balance your body’s pH, its positive effects on skin, its ability to cleanse your lymphatic system and much more. And of course, it’s also effective in treating headaches!
- ½ cup of Apple Cider Vinegar
- Approximately 4 cups of boiling water
- Large bowl
After you’ve boiled your 4 cups of water, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Make sure the bowl is large enough that the water only fills it up halfway at most. Next, pour in the ½ cup of Apple Cider Vinegar. Place the towel over your head and lean forward over the bowl. Allow the towel to drape over the other side of the bowl so you’re trapping in the steam. You’ll feel the steam and smell the aroma of the Apple Cider Vinegar if you’re doing it right – just make sure you’re a safe distance from the steam and hot water so you don’t burn yourself. Take long, deep breaths for about 10 minutes, or until the steam starts to dissipate.
7. Fish Oil Drink Recipe
The thought of consuming smelly fish oil may cause your gag reflux to act up, but mixed properly, you won’t even taste it! Fish oil has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids. It reduces inflammation – particularly in blood vessels – and can help reduce the pressure throughout your body that may be pinching on nerves and tightening muscles, leading to your headaches.
- Liquid fish oil supplement
- 8 Oz. glass of your favorite juice
To make the Fish Oil drink, you’ll need 2 things: liquid fish oil supplement (available in most grocery or specialty health food stores) and a glass of your favorite juice. Cranberry juice, orange juice and grapefruit juice work very well to cover up the taste of fish oil (though if you like fish, you probably wouldn’t mind the taste all too much). Follow the dosing instructions on the fish oil label and add it to your 8 oz. glass of juice. Stir it in good and consume.
8. Almonds & Other Nuts
Almonds are rich in magnesium, which is proven to relax blood vessels and contribute to a reduction in headaches – particularly for chronic migraine sufferers.
Don’t care for almonds? Cashews are a great alternative and can provide the same type of headache relief.
9. Cayenne Pepper Drink
It almost seems counter intuitive to use something so spicy to treat anything, but cayenne pepper has long been a staple for a number of natural remedies. Its ability to reduce inflammation can clear nasal passages, help relieve a sore throat and alleviate headaches. This is all due to its active super-ingredient: Capsaicin.
- ½ teaspoon of cayenne powder
- 4 oz. of warm water
Simply mix the cayenne powder thoroughly into the water until it mostly dissolves. Dip your finger in the mixture and apply it near the bottom of each nostril, then gently breathe it in. If you’re not too sensitive to spicy foods, you can also take a sip of the mixture for added relief. Note: you will feel a burning sensation with both methods, so take caution if you’re at all sensitive. The burning sensation won’t last for long, but your headache will soon be history.
Essential Oils and Plants for Relief of Headache Symptoms
Peppermint grows naturally in parts of North America, Asia and Europe. You may know peppermint as the key flavor in candy canes, but it also has many other benefits! The International Journal of of Clinical Practice published a study in 2010 which found that menthol (the key, active ingredient in peppermint) worked to alleviate migraine pain.
Butterbur is a plant that is native to North America, Asia and Europe and has a long history of being used to treat coughs, headaches, fevers and more. It’s most commonly found in pill form which is made from root extracts. There was a study done in 2004 and published in Neurology that confirmed butterbur is useful in the prevention of migraine headaches.
The use of Feverfew (also known as Featherfew) to treat a number of common ailments dates all the way back to Ancient Greece. The medicinal properties can be found in the leaves, stems and flowers of the Feverfew plant. Feverfew is available as a supplement, or it can be purchased raw and added to a juice, smoothie or tea.
13. Willow Bark Extract
Willow Bark is commonly referred to as “Nature’s Aspirin” because of the similar effects it has on treating pain and common health ailments related to inflammation. A 2012 study by Free Radical Biology and Medicine showed the effectiveness of willow bark extract as treatment for inflammation.
The honeysuckle plant is native to Asia and has a long history as a natural medicine in Japan, being used to treat a variety of issues including colds, sores, infections and inflammation. It’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a good choice to help combat the pain associated with migraine headaches.
15. Valerian Root
The use of Valerian Root as a medicine can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. Although most people know Valerian Root as a natural treatment for insomnia, it’s been gaining more traction for its ability to reduce headaches.
The lavender plant is known for its bright purple flowers and pleasant, sweet smell. Lavender is a favorite of essential oil enthusiasts and massage therapists around the world for its ability to promote relaxation through a reduction in stress. The European Journal of Neurology published a study in 2012 which concluded that subjects who inhaled lavender essential oil were able to eliminate or reduce migraine symptoms more quickly than the control group.
Rosemary is an herb native to the Mediterranean and has been used in cooking and natural medicine for centuries. Although the use of rosemary for relief of headaches hasn’t been well documented from a scientific standpoint, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of its benefits. It works by increasing blood flow to the brain, which can help alleviate the pain associated with migraines. You can load your body up with rosemary simply by using it more in your cooking, take it in the form of tea, or you can use it in its essential oil form through aromatherapy.
Natural Treatment of Headaches
A Chiropractor will focus on relieving any headaches caused by neuromusculoskeletal issues (which related to nerves, bones and muscles). They will examine your spine and alignment to determine if these types of issues can be causing headaches and then will work with you through a series of natural treatments in order to correct them.
Massage can help to reduce muscle tension/tightness and also help with stress and anxiety relief. Since muscle tension and stress/anxiety are common causes of headaches, massage can be very helpful in relieving symptoms and helping to reduce recurring headaches.
Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine that’s used to treat a variety of health issues, including headaches. An acupuncturist will insert tiny needles (don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing…) on key spots throughout your body to enhance blood flow. This procedure is also noted for its ability to relive emotional stress and anxiety.
If you’ve ever tried Yoga, you know that it’s one of the best things for your mind and body. If you haven’t tried it, we strongly recommend you consider it. Yoga not only helps to relieve stress and anxiety, it also helps to loosen your tight muscles and stretch out parts of your body that have likely been dormant for a long time. Loosening tight muscles and focusing on your breathing during yoga will help to reduce the occurrence of headaches over time.
Mediation is somewhat similar to Yoga in that it helps to relax the mind and body. Taking time out of your hectic day to focus on the present moment with no distractions will do wonders for your mental state. The reduction in stress and the relief of tension provided by mediation can help to reduce the likelihood of headaches ever occurring in the first place.
Additional Tips to Relieve and Prevent Headache Pain
24. Posture Exercises
Since muscle tension can contribute to headaches, it’s important to stay loose. And since many of us spend far too much time sitting at a desk for work or on the couch inactive, it’s especially important to actively do stretches to loosen up tight muscles. Below are 2 simple posture exercises that work especially well for those us who spend too much time sitting down:
– Stand up straight and place your hands on your hips. Keeping your hands on your hips, lean backwards until you feel your lower back tightening up. This will help stretch out your lower back as well as your chest.
– Standing up straight, take your right foot and place it on the other side of your left foot. Bend forward as far as you can and hold that position for 30 seconds. Repeat the same process with the other foot. This will help stretch your hamstrings and lower back.
25. Hot or Cold Compress?
Hot and cold compresses are often used interchangeably to alleviate pain, but which one works better? When it comes to sports pain and injuries, heat is the ideal choice. But when it comes to headaches, you’re better off with a cold compress, says Jennifer Kriegler, MD, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Jennifer says that cold masks or wraps used on the forehead and temple area can help alleviate the throbbing pain associated with a migraine.
26. Hydration – Drink More Water!
Are you getting enough water every day to keep your body hydrated and functioning at a high level? Dehydration is a known contributor to headaches. Often times when I feel a headache coming on, I drink a few glasses of water in a short amount of time and my headache is gone; which means I don’t need to resort to more time-consuming natural treatments.
In a study published by Neurology, researchers gave one group of migraine sufferers a placebo drug and had the other group increase their water intake by 4 cups per day. At the end of the 2 week study, researchers found that those in the group that increased their water intake suffered 21 fewer hours of headache-related pain on average. In addition, the reported intensity of their headaches was less severe. When it comes to headache relief, water works!
27. Avoiding Eyestrain
The American Optometric Association states that nearly 70% of people who work behind computers as part of their daily jobs are impacted by eye-related problems, which include frequent headaches. For every hour you spend behind the computer, TV or other electronic device, make sure you take at least a 10 minute break to avoid eyestrain.
Inhaling soothing vapors from key essential oils can do wonders for your mental health, reducing stress, anxiety and even depression. Although scientific studies are largely inconclusive (mostly due to issues around the standardization of essential oils used in studies) around the use of essential oils to treat certain conditions, the historically anecdotal evidence is overwhelming enough that we recommend it.
You can practice aromatherapy in a variety of ways including through massage, inhalation, bathing, application of lotions/oils, candles, diffusers and more.
Common Causes of Headaches
Anxiety & Stress
Anxiety and Stress are known to cause both tension and migraine headaches. The reason they cause headaches is two-fold: first, anxiety and stress typically cause irregular sleeping patterns which can cause your body to get inadequate rest and second, they can cause muscle tension and tightness, which can lead to headaches.
Loud noises can increase circulation and blood flow, sending a rush of blood to the head and causing a headache. Loud noises also cause extreme vibrations within the ear drum which radiate to the frontal lobe of the brain, causing a headache.
Certain additives in foods or even natural ingredients can lead to headaches. These are the types of foods that most commonly lead to headaches:
- Soy Sauce & MSG
- Processed Meats
A headache can be a common side effects of many different types of medications, depending on your reaction to it. Although you may be taking medication to treat another illness or relieve symptoms of a disease, a headache can be an unfortunate side effect.
During exercise or any type of physical activity, your body requires an increased amount of blood for circulation to keep up with your body’s heightened state of activity. The increased blood flow causes your blood vessels to swell, which in turn can cause a headache. This doesn’t happen to everyone by any means, but for some, physical activity can be a headache trigger.
Poor posture when standing up, lying down or sitting in a chair can most certainly lead to headaches. When your body is in a poor position for a prolonged amount of time, your muscles can tighten and your circulation can get out of whack, leading to headaches.
Your eyes get tired like any other muscle in your body that’s overworked. If you’re squinting or straining your eyes or spending too much time behind a computer screen or mobile device, chances are your eye muscles are getting overworked. Over time, this can lead to a headache, most commonly behind and around your eyes.
Headaches as a result of hormones generally apply to females. The decrease in estrogen that takes place right before a woman’s period is a common trigger for headaches, among other symptoms.
FAQs About Headaches
Are Headaches Dangerous?
The large majority of the time, no. Headaches are a reaction to something going on in our minds or bodies, but typically the issues are benign in nature.
When Should I See a Doctor About a Headache?
If you experience sudden, persistent and painful headaches that are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness or blurred vision, it’s time to see a doctor.
What Type of Doctor Should I See About My Headache?
For recurring migraines and headaches that come and go but are persistent over time, you should start by seeing your general practitioner. There, they can do a basic evaluation and refer you to a specialist if they believe it’s warranted. If you experience the “worst headache of your life” or one that is accompanied by other symptoms such as sudden dizziness, blurred/double vision or extreme nausea and vomiting, you should be heading to the emergency room.
Do Over-the-Counter (OTC) Headache Medications Work?
OTC medications for headache relief can work, but only to mask the symptoms. If your headache is caused by poor daily habits including lack of sleep, eye strain, muscle tension or stress (to name a few), medications will only provide temporary relief at best.
Are Migraines Hereditary?
Research is still ongoing to determine is migraines are hereditary, but early studies and research shows that those who have parents who suffer migraines are more likely to suffer migraines in their lifetime. The exact links and causes have yet to be determined.
Do Children Get Headaches?
Yes, children can and do get headaches. If your child is experiencing regular, painful headaches, you should see a doctor to rule out any potentially harmful causes. Once those are ruled out, you can work towards a natural approach to treating their headaches.
What is the Most Common Type of Headache?
A tension headache is the most common type of headache.
Who Gets More Headaches: Men or Women?
Women get more headaches than men. This is due to the fact that hormonal fluctuations (namely, estrogen) in women can be directly attributed to causing headaches, particularly migraines.
What is a Headache Aura?
An “aura” or “headache aura” refers to symptoms that an individual may experience before the onset of a headache. These symptoms include visual disturbances, the presence of odd smells and/or confused thoughts.
Does Weather Affect Headaches?
Changes in weather can affect levels of serotonin in certain individuals. This chemical imbalance can lead to a headache, or it can make a headache worse.