Physiologically, there is always a reason for a headache. Headaches are a great way of practicing to read your body more effectively. A quick body scan can help you determine the root cause and a remedy for your headache.
Most headaches can be self-assessed and resolved if we simply listen to the signs that our body is telling us! In a way, it’s comforting to know that our body can send us a signal if we’re not treating it right.
If you’re looking to avoid popping a Tylenol or Advil and you want to try self-healing your body, here are easy solutions to relieve a headache naturally:
At the first sign of a headache, the first thing to do is evaluate your current hydration level. More often than not, dehydration can be the root cause of your headache. By far the easiest remedy and should be the first self-assessment.
If you have a headache, you should stop and think how much water you’ve drank today.
You can also use the color of your urine to indicate whether you are hydrated or not. Unless your urine is clear or only a slight tint of yellow, chances are you’re dehydrated.
Try drinking small, frequent sips of water over 1-3 hours to allow your body to rehydrate and the headache to disappear.
I always recommend to my clients to carry a water bottle with them throughout the day. Setting a daily goal for how many times you refill your water bottle is a great way to ensure you stay hydrated. You should consume approximately 2-3L of water per day. This will also vary if you live in a warmer climate or are physically active on that day.
2. NECK STRETCHES
A huge indicator that your headache is coming from your neck is if the pain seems to be primarily on one side or the other. Either the right or left side. A second indicator is if your headache pain changes when you move your head. The MOST common headache is called the Cervicogenic Headache. Which means “Generated from the neck”. The root cause is a stiff muscle in your neck.
As a Physical Therapist, neck stretches are definitely one of my top recommendations for relieving a cervicogenic headache or a headache caused by a stiff neck after a bad sleep.
Here are two great stretches to relieve a headache coming from your neck:
STRETCH 1: UPPER TRAPEZIUS STRETCH
Try standing or sitting with an erect posture. Take a deep breath and exhale lowering your shoulders down. Tilt your head slightly so your ear lowers towards your shoulder.
Do not force the movement. Allow gravity to hold the position. Take a 2nd deep breath and lower your shoulders again allowing your head to tilt further. Hold for 30-45 seconds, then slowly return to starting position.
Repeat on the opposite side. This can be done 1-3 times depending on the severity of your pain. For an additional stretch, you can apply gentle pressure downward on the side of the head to increase the stretch.
STRETCH 2: LEVATOR STRETCH
Again, try standing or sitting with an erect posture. Take a good deep breath and exhale lowering your shoulders down. Turn your head approximately 45° so your chin is pointed at your armpit. Gently lower your head forward towards your armpit and remember not to force the movement.
As with the first stretch, allow gravity to hold the position. Take a 2nd deep breath and lower your shoulders again allowing your head to tilt further. Hold for 30-45 seconds, then slowly return to starting position.
Repeat this stretch on the opposite side. This stretch can also be done 1-3 times depending on the severity of your pain. For an additional stretch, you can apply gentle pressure downward on the back of the head to increase the stretch.
3. TRIGGER POINT RELEASES
Often times, headaches are caused by an active trigger point in one or more of the muscles in our neck or upper back region. Get a partner, or do it yourself, by releasing the trigger point.
Either seated in a comfortable position or lying down on your back, try and locate the tender region in the neck (typically below the back of the skull) or upper back (typically above the shoulder blade), and apply firm pressure with your fingers or thumbs for 1-3 minutes on the trigger point.
Focus on maintaining a firm pressure and taking full breaths allowing your body to relax on the exhales.
4. HEAT THERAPY
Using a hot compress can be a simple remedy to relieve headaches by increasing the blood flow to the muscles of the neck and reducing the tension. Using a hot compress, place it on your neck, just below your skull and cover the area across from underneath each ear, for 10-15 minutes.
Lay down in a comfortable position with a pillow to support the compress so that your neck, and body, can relax. Alternatively, you can use a small water bottle filled with hot water which can combo as heat and trigger point therapy.
5. COLD THERAPY
Cold or frozen compresses can help minimize headaches as well.
The cold helps reduce further inflammation by restricting blood vessels allowing for the headache symptoms to settle. Simply apply a cold or frozen compress to the neck or head region for upwards of 15-20 minutes.
Using Peppermint essential oil has been proven to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches. Simply apply a few drops on your temples, right above your cheek bone, as well as the back of your neck.
Using peppermint oil pairs well with other remedies on this list.
When the body is under stress and headaches take over, a basic meditative practice can help to relieve symptoms by reducing your stress levels.
Try meditating by finding a relaxed position, and start by taking deep breaths. After several breaths, begin scanning your head, neck and body for areas of tension. Once you’ve located the points of tension, return back to your breath and continue to breathe deeply for 5-10 minutes.
If your mind starts to wander, don’t worry, simply bring your attention back to your breath.
Practicing Yoga is an excellent way to relieve stress, reduce muscle tension and decrease pain. Yoga practice doesn’t have to be intimidating or challenging.
There are many online YouTube channels that provide free guides for beginners including Yoga with Adriene.
Try this video on Yoga for Headaches.
9. Dietary Audit
Reflect on your current diet. If your body is malnourished, meaning you are not eating enough nutrient-dense foods and eating mostly processed and high sugar/salt foods, this may be causing headaches.
Many of the chemical processes in the body require adequate nutrition to function properly. If your body is experiencing a deficiency, then headaches can result. Try incorporating more fruits and vegetables and limit your processed food and sugar intake to replenish nutrients to your bodily processes.
So next time you have a headache, check yourself. Is it dehydration, stress or could it be coming from the neck? Try one of these remedies or try them together for the best results.