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Easing a Headache the Natural Way


Here it comes—the beginning of that dull, throbbing pain of a tension headache. But what if you want to feel better without turning to over-the counter or prescription medicines? We have some natural approaches that you may want to try!

Drug-Free Headache Relievers

If you are desperately looking for a way to manage tension headaches without the use of drugs, here are some alternative treatments that have shown to either prevent or help relieve tension headaches in scientific studies:

Acupuncture
What Does It Involve?

Acupuncture is a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine that has become more popular in the United States. This treatment involves inserting very fine needles into specific locations on the surface of the body. There are many different types of acupuncture, including a technique that uses laser beams instead of needles. There have been studies supporting the use of acupuncture to prevent tension headaches.

Your Next Step

If you are interested in trying this treatment, do your research. For example, find out which types of acupuncture may be the most helpful for tension headaches. Ask your doctor if she can recommend a qualified acupuncturist who has experience in treating headaches. Read your health insurance policy to find out if acupuncture visits are covered. Keep in mind, too, that most states require acupuncturists to be licensed.

Biofeedback
What Does It Involve?

Biofeedback is a way to control processes that are normally involuntary. A biofeedback session involves having sensors attached to your body. These sensors are connected to a biofeedback machine, which translates the data into an image on a monitor or a sound. For example, if you undergo biofeedback for tension headaches, a therapist can teach your strategies to reduce the tension in your muscles, which in turn would produce a less dramatic image on the screen or a quieter sound. Studies have shown that biofeedback may be helpful in relieving tension headaches.

Your Next Step

Since not all states require biofeedback therapists to have a license, proceed cautiously. Make sure that the person has been trained in biofeedback and has experience treating tension headaches. Check with your doctor to find out if she knows of a qualified therapist that you can make an appointment with. In addition, look into your insurance plan to find out if you need to pay for the sessions out-of-pocket.

Chiropractic
What Does It Involve?

Chiropractic is a common treatment that typically involves hands-on manipulation of the vertebrae in the spine. While you may think that chiropractic is only used for back pain, there are actually a range of other conditions that chiropractors can treat, including headaches and pain in other areas of the body (eg, neck, jaw, shoulder, knee). Other providers, such as Osteopathic doctors, may also perform some spinal manipulation. Some studies have shown that spinal manipulation may help relieve and reduce the number of tension headaches.

Your Next Step

If you are interested in working with a chiropractor, you can ask your doctor for a referral or search a professional website, such as the American Chiropractic Association. All chiropractors must have a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree, and they must have a license to work in your state. Most insurance plans do pay for chiropractic care.

Relaxation Therapies
What Do These Involve?

Relaxation therapies actually encompass a range of different techniques. One example that may be helpful for people with tension headaches is guided imagery. This involves working with a therapist to learn how to use all of your senses to focus on a particular, calming image. Practicing guided imagery can bring your body to a state of deep relaxation.

Your Next Step

Unfortunately, states do not require a license for this type of treatment. But there are certification programs for guided imagery, and many practitioners are licensed mental health therapists or nurses. Again, your doctor may be able to recommend someone who has experience in guided imagery. You can also search The Academy of Guided Imagery's website for practitioners in your area.

If you want to break the cycle of tension headaches, you have many options to try! Taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines does not have to be the answer for you. Now may be the right time to look into alternative treatments.

RESOURCES:

American Chiropractic Association
http://www.acatoday.org/

National Headache Foundation
http://www.headaches.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Headache Network
http://www.headachenetwork.ca/

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index_e.html/

References:

Acupuncture. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated June 4, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2012.

Biofeedback. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated August 1, 2011. Accessed June 20, 2012.

Bove G, Nilsson N. Spinal manipulation in the treatment of episodic tension-type headache: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1998;280(18):1576-1579.

Chiropractic. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated May 7, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2012.

Frequently asked questions. American Chiropractic Association website. Available at: http://www.acatoday.org/level3_css.cfm?T1ID=13T2ID=61T3ID=152. Accessed June 20, 2012.

Guided imagery. Breast Cancer.org website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/comp_med/types/imagery.jsp. Accessed June 20, 2012.

Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for tension-type headache. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1):CD007587.

Mannix LK, Chandurkar RS, Rybicki LA, Tusek DL, Solomon GD. Effect of guided imagery on quality of life for patients with chronic tension-type headache. Headache. 1999;39(5):326-334.

Nestoriuc Y, Rief W, Martin A. Meta-analysis of biofeedback for tension-type headache: efficacy, specificity, and treatment moderators. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008;76(3):379-396.

Relaxation therapies. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated June 7, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2012.

Tension headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated June 13, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2012.

Tension headache. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated January 26, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2012.



Last reviewed June 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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