Tension headaches are one of the most commonly occurring disorders that are so prevalent, they occur more frequently than the common cold. Seeing as how we’re plagued with a mostly avoidable condition, I thought it prudent to write about some of the best natural remedies for tension headaches I could find. They’re easy to use and will help alleviate and even prevent symptoms.
Tension Headache Definition
Tension headaches, also known as tension-type headaches are the most common form of headache. They are generally described as a diffuse, mild to moderate pain that can radiate from the lower back of the head, the neck, eyes, and other muscles of the upper body. This type of headache often feels like a tight band around your head which can make us feel tired and worn down.
Tension-type headaches can occur at any age but are most common in teens and adults. In fact, it is estimated that up to 45 million Americans suffer from chronic recurring tension headaches; 20% of which are children and adolescents.
The most common symptoms of a tension headache include:
• Sensation of a tight band around the head
• Tension in the neck or the shoulder
• Pressure or throbbing anywhere in the head or neck
Often, a tension headache is worse when lying down due to possible blood pressure fluctuations, sinusitis, or low blood sugar. You can read more about the various forms of tension headache in the homeopathy section of this article.
How Long can a Tension Headache Last?
Tension headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a whopping 7 days depending on the root cause.
The most common root causes include:
• Allergies (food or environmental)
• Consuming MSG – this additive is notorious for causing tension headaches and should be avoided. MSG also goes by the name calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, and hydrolyzed protein
• Digestive troubles like constipation
• Emotional stress
• Excessive intake or withdrawal from alcohol, caffeine, or illegal substances
• Hormonal imbalance
• Low blood sugar
• Nutritional deficiencies (especially magnesium, B6, and essential fatty acids)
• Poor posture
• Spinal misalignment
Many people try to treat tension headache symptoms with a popular OTC medicine called Excedrin Tension Headache, but I don’t recommend this route personally. For one, it isn’t natural, and second, the caffeine can make you feel pretty nauseous if you’re sensitive to it. I know that this happened to me when trying this particular medicine, so just be aware! I would much rather take natural remedies for tension headaches than ones filled with chemicals!
So, now that you know a bit more about your adversary, what are some healthier alternatives to treating tension headaches naturally?
Natural Remedies for Tension Headaches
One of the first things you can do to help prevent future tension headaches is to find out if you have any food intolerances or allergies. You can do this through an online service like EverlyWell or get a blood test done by your doctor which will help you avoid specific foods and additives that may be causing your tension headaches.
Once you have eliminated any possible foods that cause you to react, it’s time to go one step further and remove processed foods from your diet and start incorporating more nutrient dense whole foods.
If your tension headaches are caused by blood sugar imbalances, then eating well rounded meals made with whole food ingredients will help keep your sugar from spiking or plummeting.
Getting enough fiber in your diet will alleviate symptoms of constipation as well as prevent too many wastes and toxins from building in your gut which can cause detox headaches. You can up your fiber by consuming flaxseeds, chia seeds, or acacia fiber daily with a large 10oz glass of water.
Avoid foods that contain dairy, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners as well as alcoholic beverages to help further prevent tension headaches from occurring.
I’m sure you’ve heard others tell you that you have a headache because you didn’t drink enough water!
Well, in most cases, they’re right! Dehydration is one of the leading causes of headaches because the muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders aren’t as smooth and supple as they should be, which can cause them to cramp up and tighten.
Toxins like cellular waste can also get backed up in the body when you don’t drink enough water throughout the day and will start causing inflammation and muscle spasms.
it is recommended that you drink a glass of spring water every 2 waking hours in order to combat and prevent tension headaches caused by dehydration.
The Best Natural Remedies for Tension Headaches
Aside from improving your diet and upping your hydration levels, here are a few herbs, supplements and homeopathic remedies for tension headaches that are proven effective for lessening severity, duration, and even prevention.
Take Headache Relieving Herbs
Butterbur has long been used to treat asthma, digestive upset, fever, and you guessed it, tension headaches!
The extract from this herb is known to help reduce the intensity and frequency of tension headaches due to its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. Studies have shown that it is an effective remedy for preventing headaches in both children and adults.
Feverfew has traditionally been used to treat fevers, stomach aches, toothache, insect bites, infertility, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, allergies, asthma, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, tension headaches, and migraines.
Its pain relieving properties are said to come from a biochemical called parthenolides, which are known to prevent the dilation of the blood vessels on the head which can cause severe headaches. Studies have shown that feverfew is effective at reducing the severity, duration, and frequency of headaches, particularly migraines.
Adults – take a standardized extract of 250-500mg of 0.7% parthenolides once daily.
Ginkgo biloba is known to be an excellent circulatory stimulant for the brain. It also keeps the blood nice and fluid due to its anti-platelet activity which is what makes it one of the best remedies for preventing headaches induced by altitude sickness.
Adults – take 60-120mg of standardized extract with 24% flavone glycoside 2-3 times daily.
White Willow Bark
Aspirin was originally made from white willow bark, so it’s no wonder it works so well for relieving the pain associated with tension headaches. It is a highly effective pain reliever that’s much easier on the digestive system and liver than OTC medicines.
Adults – Take 200-400mg once daily as needed for pain.
Try Some Supplements
Did you know that most people today are deficient in magnesium? It’s true! Our soil has become so depleted and over farmed that even our fruits and vegetables lack the levels they once had 100 years ago.
Living in this day and age, it’s easy for the nervous system to become overstimulated and burned out, and magnesium is one of the first nutrients to become depleted when our bodies get stressed.
Magnesium is known to help prevent muscle tension, improve healthy blood blow to the brain, and keep serotonin levels within normal range.
Believe it or not, it is often unchecked serotonin levels that cause the vascular spasms in our head that instigate tension headaches and migraines.
Adults – take 400-600mg of magnesium daily. Dial down your dose if you experience diarrhea.
Magnesium oxide can even be used for tension headache while pregnant in doses of 400mg once a day.
This is one of my favorite daily supplements not only for treating tension headaches naturally but also for enhancing mood stability.
Studies have shown that 5-HTP is effective at preventing tension headaches as it has a direct effect on serotonin levels which are known to effect circulation in the blood vessels of the brain. It also raises the body’s endorphin levels which are a form of natural pain killer.
Adults – take 50-100mg up to three times daily.
Use Essential Oils
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint essential oil has a long-lasting cooling effect when applied to the skin which helps inhibit muscle contractions and stimulates healthy blood flow.
Using it on the temples, the back of the neck, and on the forehead, is known to be one of the best natural remedies for tension headaches, especially when used in 15 minutes intervals.
Adults – dilute 3 drops of peppermint essential oil in 1/4-1/2 tsp of carrier oil and apply to temples, back of the neck, forehead, and shoulders every 15 minutes until symptoms dissipate.
Lavender Essential Oil
If your tension headaches are related to stress or lack of sleep, then lavender essential oil may be just what you’re looking for.
This cure-all essential oil helps induce relaxation and encourages you to let go of tension and stress. Its calming, anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, and anti-spasmodic properties not only calm the mind, it also reduces tension in the body.
According to research, lavender essential oil is rapidly absorbed through the limbic system due to its linalool and linalyl acetate constituents. It is because of this that lavender is so effective at treating tension headaches quickly and effectively.
Adults – diffuse 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil for 20 minutes.
Eucalyptus Essential Oil
Tension headaches caused by swollen and inflamed sinuses can be greatly relieved by sniffing some eucalyptus essential oil. Its expectorant and mucus thinning qualities help eliminate the sinus pressure that can lead to tension headaches while also promoting emotional balance.
Sniffing the aroma of eucalyptus EO has been shown to decrease the pain associated with tension headaches while also improving blood pressure and circulation in the upper body.
Adults – dilute 2-4 drops of eucalyptus essential oil in 1/2 tsp of carrier oil and apply it to the temples, back of the neck, forehead, and chest to alleviate pressure in the sinuses.
You can also diffuse it for 20 minutes 2-3 times daily. I use this diffuser.
Homeopathy for Tension Headaches
This section is a bit lengthy, so scan the homeopathic remedies below and choose the ones that resonate with your specific needs.
For best results, take 30C potency up to four times daily.
For chronic tension headaches, take 6x, 12x, 6C, 12C, or 30C twice a day for two weeks to see if there are improvements.
If you suffer from severe headaches, it is important that you consult with your doctor to rule out any serious underlying conditions.
Belladonna (Atropa belladonna)
Belladonna is good for tension headaches that begin on the back of the head, then become focused on the right side of the head, extending to the right eye and/or forehead. The pain is described as a throbbing sensation as if your head will burst. The skin feels hot and looks flushed yet the feet are cold. The person feels better laying down in a dark quiet room.
Bryonia (Bryonia alba)
Bryonia is effective against headaches that begin in the left eye or the forehead that extends to the entire head. Symptoms become worse with movement and feels better when pressure is applied or when the person holds still.
Constipation is often associated with this type of tension headache and there can be nausea or great thirst. The person will tend to be irritable and wants to be alone.
Cimicifuga is useful when there is severe neck pain and stiffness with the headache, which often occurs on or near the menstrual cycle or with hormonal changes during menopause.
Gelsemium (Gelsemium sempervirens)
Gelsemium is good for treating dull heavy pain at the back of the neck which then transforms into a tight band around the head. The person may feel tired or dizzy and may even have blurred vision.
Glonoinum is for a congestive headache with an intense pounding sensation. Symptoms are worse in the heat and improve with cold applications.
Ignatia (Ignatia amara)
Ignatia is for headaches associated with back or neck spasms that feel as if a nail is being driven into the head. Ignatia can also be effective for treating tension headaches caused by grief or emotional trauma.
Lachesis is for left-sided headaches that have a burning, congestive, and pulsating sensation. The person may look flushed in the face and will have woken up with this type of headache. Heat and pressure worsen symptoms, open air improves it.
Lycopodium (Lycopodium clavatum)
Lycopodium is for headaches that manifest in the right side of the head on the temple of forehead. Symptoms are worse in the afternoon and evening from being overheated or going too long without eating.
Magnesia Phophorica is an excellent natural remedy for tension headaches as it helps relax tight muscles.
Nux Vomica is for headaches caused by stress, being overworked, and negative reactions to food. The headache will feel better with cold applications and there is often stomach upset and nausea.
This remedy also works well for headaches caused by consuming alcohol or from food sensitivities. The person will feel irritable from the headache and will feel worse if their environment is noisy and bright.
Pulsatilla (Pulsatilla pratensis)
Pulsatilla is especially helpful for tension headaches caused by the menstrual cycle where the headache location changes rapidly. Symptoms can be worse in stuffy hot rooms and get better in the open air.
Sanguinaria is good for headaches that begin in the right side of the neck or shoulder and radiates to the right eye. This type of headache is often alleviated through vomiting.
Spigelia is for headaches with a stitching, sharp pain around the left eye. Symptoms worsen with movement and get better with heat.
Applying pressure to specific areas can also greatly alleviate the pain associated with tension headaches.
Here are three of the best acupressure points to try:
Large Intestine 4 (LI4) is known to be effective for all kinds and aches and pains but is especially good for treating pain in the front of the head.
Bladder 2 (B2) is good for headaches accompanied by tired, painful eyes or sinus congestion.
Gallbladder 20 (GB20) is good for easing all types of headache pain.
Apply pressure to these points using your thumbs for 30 seconds to one minute 2-3 times a day.
Other Natural Remedies for Tension Headaches You Can Try
To reduce muscles spasms, lay down in a darkened room and apply a cold compress to the area or on the back of the neck. Some may find a warm compress to be more effective.
Breath in deeply to up the supply of oxygen in your body in order to help alleviate pain.
Using a heat pad on the back of the neck and shoulders is an effective way to relieve stress tension.
Work on correcting bad posture from sitting at a desk all day, using a phone, or general slouching. You will be surprised by how much your headaches can improve by sitting and standing correctly!
What have been your favorite natural remedies for tension headaches that have worked for you? Please share them in the comments below!
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