50 Ways to Heal Your Headaches


There are at least 50 ways to heal a headache and probably at least 50 ways to trigger a headache. One of the more prominent ways to “Heal a Headache,” especially migraines, as we approach the millenium is with the use of neurofeedback. However, there can be some very simple measures for the alleviation of the less complicated stress or tension headache without the use of drugs.

Biofeedback in the 70’s for a tension headache involved having two EMG sensors placed on the forehead which were attached to a dial that indicated muscle tension. As the muscles in the forehead relaxed, the dial indicator would go down. Years later, a sound was added that would turn on if a certain threshold of muscle relaxation was reached. This was known as a threshold tone. Also, a variable pitch tone could be used to indicate lowering muscle tension. This became an additional reward. As muscles relaxed, the headaches would improve. Then it might be said, “the biofeedback helped my headache!” However, the trainee did all the work of getting rid of his headache-with only the help of a little dial and tone.

As biofeedback grew and became more complex, monitoring for headache came to include not only muscle activity (EMG) but fingertip temperature, perspiration on the hand (GSR), breathing, heart rate, and brainwaves. Specialized imagery and physical exercises were added. Ways to incorporate these learned skills into one’s everyday life (homework or “ownwork”) were also added. Awareness of nutritional intake, levels of stress, and one’s limitations become an important part of learning about how to manage headaches.

Some ways to prevent headaches include:

1. Biofeedback – Initially, learn to be aware of your present condition and take the steps to eliminate symptoms caused by it. Eventually, as this process proceeds you may find the clues to the elimination of the cause as well.

2. Conditioned Relaxation – as described earlier, practice with a relaxation tape preceded by a signal such as a special breath will train the body to recognize the signal for letting go and becoming relaxed. It will take some time, but the reward is to be able to achieve relaxation at any time at any place.

3. Temperature Training – A very inexpensive fingertip thermometer or a more complex device such as a digital thermometer may be used. To practice temperature training, get comfortable, measure your fingertip temperature. Listen to your relaxation tape with the biofeedback device taped to your fingertip, and then remeasure your temperature. At first you may notice a drop in your temperature. This is a common finding because there is a natural tendency to “try” to achieve the result with efforting, and that may be counter-productive. Don’t try to force it. Be pleased with yourself when you succeed in actually sitting down and practicing. Don’t be discouraged. In a day or two of practice you will see the temperature begin to rise. Be patient. This process will take some time-perhaps a month of practicing diligently two times per day. The fingertip temperature, as a general rule, can be about 96oF under conditions of relaxation. (Under the tongue it’s nominally 98.6oF.) Often, under conditions of normal daily activity, fingertip temperature can be as low as 90oF. Some have fingertip temperatures as low as 76oF if they are under stress, have “poor circulation”, Raynaud’s, or migraines.

GSR goes down as relaxation is achieved, and fingertip temperature goes up with relaxation. They have a reciprocal relationship. However, these conditions should not be seen as diagnostic. Whereas cold and clammy hands may indicate a stress reaction, warm and dry hands do not prove unambiguously that a person is relaxed. What is true is that if a person has cold and clammy hands, he or she will become more relaxed as the temperature is trained up and the GSR down.

4. Arousal training – One can purchase a simple GSR device. These devices can be used as indicators of arousal levels as relaxation is practiced. A tone sounds as arousal changes – perhaps higher as you are excited or lower as you relax. The moment to moment feedback from the device guides your brain to that elusive relaxed place that one may not be able to reach without external guidance.

5. Signal Breath -The next step is to be able to achieve a calm state with a signal, such as a breath, in a very short time. So, in the space of approximately 30 seconds or one minute, a significant relaxation can occur. (This has been demonstrated with biofeedback assisted guided imagery, in which it can be shown that upon prior training the fingertip temperature will rise and the GSR will drop even with the brief exercises). Such brief respites prepare the body to meet its subsequent challenges better. This can be translated into a very efficient relaxation exercise to be done any time at work, in the car at a stoplight, or during a lecture.

6. Anchors – An anchor is a marker for a particular experience, such as a relaxed state. A practiced association of the anchor with a relaxation experience will eventually allow the anchor to help bring about the relaxed state it is associated with. Thus, the signal breath is a kind of anchor, one which may be added to, with certain phrases or images built into the original practice. For example, Relax as you breathe in and Release as you breathe out. In this way, the words become an anchor for the signal breath, and the signal breath an anchor for the deeply relaxed state. Learning is the key to this experience, and repetition is the key to learning.

7. Personal Place – All of this may be done in a beautiful spot you imagine, by encouraging your mind to stop and explore a lovely place where you have previously had a great time or achieved a real sense of relaxation. The body already knows the effect it felt and will respond.

8. Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This is an exercise best done with the guidance of a tape with the specific phrases for training spoken at the correct frequency. It is designed to enhance relaxation and awareness of muscle tension.

9. Open Focus – This training is designed to train control of attention. By training to broaden the focus of attention, the body is taught to move toward a calmer state. A version of this training has been applied directly to pain management, proving in yet another way that the experience of pain can be put directly under voluntary control. This training is best done with the guidance of a tape with the phrases spoken at the cadence designed for learning effectively.

10. Abdominal breathing – Self-training can readily be accomplished with the breath. For example, a simple way to monitor breathing is by placing one hand on the upper chest and the other on the abdomen, below the belly button. Observe the movement of your hands through the cycles of the breath. In healthy breathing, there should be earlier excursions of the abdomen than the chest. In the case of shallow, or stressed, breathing, there would be very little abdominal movement.

Three Neck Exercises – These are short but very powerful if done correctly. The object here is to teach the muscles to relax. Most people think the word exercise refers to stretch or build or aerobics. These exercises, by contrast, must be done VERY slowly while paying attention to the breathing and to any tightness that may occur as the neck is moved. Do not cause discomfort. Only move as far as is comfortable. With each repetition the neck will learn to move farther without pain. They may be done once each , consecutively, thus taking three minutes, once or twice per day. They may even be done one at a time (thus taking one minute) as a break from work every hour or so.

11. Lateral Head Range of Motion

With your head erect and facing forward, turn your head very slowly to the right until your chin reaches the shoulder, or until you just begin to sense discomfort. Do not hold the position. These movements should be like a pendulum (total 15 seconds). Return slowly to the midline position (15 seconds more). Turn your head slowly to the left until your chin reaches the left shoulder, or until you begin to sense discomfort (15 seconds). Return slowly to the midline (15 seconds). Total exercise time: 1 minute.

12. Vertical Head Range of Motion

With your head in a normal, vertical position, bend your head slowly forward and down until your chin just about touches your chest or until you sense discomfort (15 seconds). Return slowly to the level position (15 seconds). Extend your head slowly backward, until you begin to sense discomfort (15 seconds). Return slowly to the starting position (15 seconds). (A person with neck injuries may need medical advice before proceeding with this half of the exercise.) Total exercise time: 1 minute.

13. Lateral Tilt Range of Motion

With your head in a normal, upright position, tilt your head slowly to the right (as if to touch your right ear to your right shoulder), with your face pointing forward, until you sense the onset of any discomfort (15 seconds). Return slowly to the vertical position (15 seconds). Repeat exercise with movement to the left. Total exercise time: 1 minute.

14. Posture – Observe your posture at work.

Ergonomics play a major role in maintaining good health and poor ergonomics can cause strain especially of the head, neck and shoulders. The head weighs 10 -15 pounds and if you tip your head forward for long periods of time, strain is put on the neck, shoulders and even the muscles supporting the spine. Headaches can occur. Make sure your computer screen is at eye level. If you read a lot be sure that the book is propped up at eye level.

15. Trigger point care – The biofeedback therapist can show you points on your body that may be very tender (tender points) or may also refer pain (trigger points). The tender points will be responsive to massage by a friend or a significant other. Trigger points take more care and require the advice of the professional. Acupuncture, ice, deep massage, and specifically designed exercises are often the treatments of choice.

16. Ice – Often using an ice cube wrapped in a wash cloth to massage a very stiff muscle in your neck or shoulders can encourage blood flow to the area which therefore brings more oxygen to the fatigued muscle and carries away any toxic build-up from the spasm or stiffness.

17. Magic dots – These are small dots that can be purchased at the stationary store. Several dots are placed around the environment- in places such as the refrigerator door, the telephone, on a toothbrush, on the rear view mirror of the car etc. The “magic” is that whenever you see a dot you take a signal breath and relax. Perhaps you even take 10 more seconds to drop your shoulders and check to see if you are breathing abdominally.

18. Nutrition – Eat regular nutritional meals. Hypoglycemia can cause headaches. A sugar snack will cause abnormal rise and fall in insulin levels and can also cause headaches. Vitamin and mineral supplementation may be important, but again be advised to work with a professional for a personal assessment.

19. Trigger foods – Certain foods act as trigger or headaches in some people. Some people have a sensitivity to one or two foods., e.g. corn or tomatoes. Some migraines may be triggered by food.

Peanuts and peanut butter
Citrus fruit
Nightshade foods – tomatoes, potatoes, green peppers, eggplant, nicotine
Pork, game and organ meats
Liver – pate
Processed, smoked aged and packaged meats
(especially salami, bologna, bacon, hot dogs, herring, caviar, etc…)
Pickled and fermented foods (soy)
Cheeses and aged cheeses (especially bleu cheeses)
Spicy foods
Alcohol (especially red wine and beer)
Pods of lima, navy beans and peas
Food additives (especially nitrates, nitrites and MSG)


20. Elimination diet – It may be necessary to go on an elimination diet to determine your triggers. It is best to do this with the guidance of a professional as there are many things to look for as signs of sensitivity. One eliminates the suspect substance from the diet for a period of two weeks, and then gradually reintroduces it.

21. Herbs – should be used with care. For instance, Feverfew, is a natural pain killer but can have side effects if taken unwisely in conjunction with other medications. The same holds true for St. John’s Wort or L-Tryptophan. Please check with the doctor before self-medicating regularly.

22. Health is a question of balance – Stress management is all about finding a balance in life that keeps the body/mind in good working order. Self-care includes limiting adverse levels of stress, which can come in the form of hunger, fatigue, hormone changes, strong odors, bright lights. Make note of the things that can tire you and determine a way to limit them.

23. Headache Diary – It may be necessary to make a diary of sleep, medication, mood, food, treatments, frequency, duration and intensity of headaches. After looking at the patterns that become obvious, small simple changes may be all that is required.

24. Exercise regularly – The sense of well-being that comes from exercise is one of the best ways to eliminate stress headaches. Too strenuous weight training or incorrect breathing during training can cause headaches. Have a professional trainer check your technique.

25. Imagery Techniques – It is most often advisable to ask the advice of the body/mind. Techniques such as Interactive Guided Imagery (SM) using the Inner Advisor to Dialogue with the Symptom are very helpful. It may be easier to begin with the help of a trained professional, because imagery may be considered a subset of psychotherapeutic techniques. (See reference below to Academy of Guided Imagery.)

Emergency measures for a headache:

When you think you might be getting a headache, it is time to treat it. A number of emergency measures are available. These may include:

26. Drink one or two glasses of water. Dehydration can often contribute to headache.

27. Sit down. Perhaps all that is required is to take a break or simply re-center and do a signal breath (see above).

28. Neck exercises. The three simple exercises mentioned above take only three minutes and can relieve the tension built up from long hours at work.

29. Acupressure. Pressure applied in special areas called acupressure points is often very effective.
30. Lie down. If there is an opportunity to do so, lying down for even 5 to 10 minutes may relieve the build-up of tension.

31. Ice packs – Ice can bring great relief. If ice is not available, try getting a bag of frozen vegetables (like peas) out of your freezer or take a cold can of soda and use it at the back of your neck as you relax for a few minutes. If the headache is due to tension, this may provide relief.

32. Oxygen. Relaxed abdominal breathing changes the carbon dioxide/oxygen ratios in the blood and can be helpful in relieving stress and often pain as well.

33. Sugar. With the above techniques the addition of a very small amount of sugar such as half a jelly bean or half a lifesaver under the tongue can also be helpful.

34. Caffeine can also be used to stop a headache. The concern is that it may be overused, in which case a rebound headache can occur.

35. Five-minute walk. Get up and go outside. There are some indications that the platelets in the blood may clump under indoor or artificial light. When the sun is available even for short periods of time, they will separate and are able to resume their job of carrying oxygen.

36. Massage- allowing the neck, shoulder and head muscles to relax with quick massage from a friend or loved one may be all that is necessary to relieve the headache.

37. Quick imagery techniques. Time regression: take some time to go over the last few hours, in your mind’s eye and determine where the most stress has occurred. Observe your response to the stress at the time and notice whether it may have had an initial effect in triggering the headache. Notice a few things you might have done to relieve your response to that earlier stress. Is there something that still needs to be done. If so, make a mental note of a time to do it. Now note how your headache feels.

38. Quick imagery techniques: Mind Analgesia: Allow an image to form representing the pain of the headache at its worst. In your mind’s eye explore the image, noticing how you feel about it, how big or small it is, what the essential qualities are, etc. Allow that image to transform into an image that represents less pain. Explore and examine that image noticing its qualities, your feelings, etc. Then allow that image to transform into an image that represents no pain. Explore that image, noticing its qualities and your feelings about it, etc. While keeping this image in mind, notice the state of your headache.

Other techniques that can be helpful:

39. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

40. Alexander Techniques

41. Bach Flower Remedies

42. Chiropractic

43. Craniosacral Therapy

44. Feldencrais

45. Hellerwork

46. Homeopathy

47. Meditation

48. Physiotherapy techniques – Heat, TENS, Ultra sound, Laser, Maxa

49. Sciatsu Massage

50. Yoga

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