7 Ways to Head off Primary Headache Pain


5 mins read

Hundreds of years ago, it was believed that headaches could be cured by drilling or cutting holes through a person’s skull. This form of surgery, known as trepanation, supposedly helped to drain “infected blood”, but it often had dire –– and even fatal –– consequences.

A 14th-Century painting of trepanation by Guido da Vigevano (Credit: Sheila Terry/Science Photo Library)

Thankfully, due to advancements in the medical industry, there are far safer and more effective ways to treat and manage headache pains today. In the second part of our series “When Your Head Hurts”, we provide seven ways you can manage pain from tension-type or migraine headaches. Rest assured that none of them requires any power tools!

1. Take some medication

The most common form of medication for treating tension-type headaches are known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS; pronounced en-sayds). These drugs reduce swelling and inflammation, as well as help to reduce mild to moderate pain and fever. Some over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDS include aspirin and ibuprofen (e.g. Advil™, Motrin™)

These OTC pain relievers can also be used to treat mild to moderate migraine headaches. If OTC’s do not relieve your acute migraine pain, your physician may prescribe stronger medications to reduce the duration and severity of your headaches.

It is important that you consult your physician before taking any medication; an overdose can cause nausea, stomach pain, stomach bleeding, ulcers and increased blood pressure.

2. Bring the heat (or the cold!)

Cold and heat may help to relieve muscle tension that comes along with tension-type headaches. Applying a heat pad set on low, a hot bottle, or a hot towel to your neck and shoulder area may help to relax tight neck and shoulder muscles. Alternatively, an ice pack can be applied to the painful area on your head and neck. Remember to wrap the ice pack in a cloth, such as a dishtowel, to protect your skin!

3. Sleep

Stress is one of the key causes of headaches. Sufficient sleep may be helpful to keep your stress at bay. If you feel a headache coming, rest or sleep in a quiet, dark room, and aim to relax your shoulders, neck and back.

4. Get a massage

Having a tension-type or a migraine headache might just be the perfect excuse for you to treat yourself to a massage. Massages are especially effective for relieving stress and muscle tension in tight, tender muscles in the back of the head, neck and shoulders, thus providing much relief from head pain.

5. Try acupuncture

Source: iStock

Since 1998, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recognized acupuncture as beneficial in treating head pain. Acupuncture uses thin, disposable needles that usually cause little or no pain or discomfort. The needles are inserted in key places of the body and stimulated either by twirling them or with electricity to give relief from chronic head pain.

6. Try essential oils

Some studies have shown that preparations made from ginger, peppermint and wintergreen oils may relieve tension-type headaches when smelled or rubbed on the back and sides of your neck or your temples.

7. Bust a move!

Aerobic exercises are any activity which increases your heart rate and the amount of oxygen you breathe. It also involves using large muscle groups, such as your legs and arms. Regular aerobic exercise –– at least 3 times a week –– reduces tension and can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches. If your physician approves, you may choose any aerobic exercise that you enjoy, whether it is walking, swimming, cycling, or even dancing!

It is important to warm up before aerobic exercises with stretching or light movements. Intense exercise can cause or even worsen headaches.

1. RafflesMedicalGroup. (2018, June 26). Headaches: An Overview.

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