10 Complementary Therapies That Might Ease Headache Pain

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When traditional medical treatment doesn’t relieve your headache symptoms, you may want to consider talking with your doctor about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Physicians and other health care providers often integrate CAM therapies with conventional medicine so patients have a comprehensive headache management plan. CAM therapies take into account inherited traits that make some individuals more sensitive to changes in the environment, certain foods, stress, and other factors that trigger headaches.

These complementary headache therapies may help you gain greater control over headaches as you control issues such as diet, sleep, exercise, and stress.

11 Complementary Therapies that Might Ease Headache Pain -  In Content

Talk with your doctor to see if any of these 10 examples of CAM therapies might help you.

  1. Biofeedback therapy.  Biofeedback devices measure body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Using this information, a biofeedback therapist can raise your awareness of how stress affects you physically — and how you can control your body’s reactions. For instance, how to relax and prevent tensed muscles, which can cause headaches.
    Some studies have shown that biofeedback may help prevent tension headaches and migraines.
  2. Acupuncture. With this technique, trained practitioners stimulate specific points of the body by inserting thin needles through the skin. Studies show that acupuncture may help relieve headache pain. But some of the effect may be due to patient expectation and belief and placebo responses, according to some researchers.
  3. Acupressure. Related to acupuncture, this technique applies pressure to energy-releasing trigger points of the body, some of which may help relieve headaches. Acupressure practitioners teach patients to self-administer the technique.
  4. Cognitive-behavioral therapy. A therapist can help patients resolve emotional issues and learn to change behaviors that may contribute to headaches.
  5. Electrical stimulation. A device called a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) sends out a small current to the skin. This diminishes the perception of pain in many individuals, including those who suffer migraines and tension headaches.
  6. Spinal manipulation. In some cases, chiropractors or other health professionals use this procedure for headaches. They apply a controlled force to a joint of the spine with their hands or a device. Studies disagree on effectiveness. And side effects of the procedure can include temporary headaches, tiredness, or discomfort. Strokes have occurred in rare cases after spinal manipulation, but a clear link to the technique has not been made.
  7. Massage therapy. Massage may be helpful for migraines, according to two small studies. But there are no clear conclusions. Provided by a licensed massage therapist, it poses few risks. But those with health conditions and pregnant women should check with their doctor first.
  8. Relaxation techniques. These include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and breathing exercises. Some studies find these techniques less effective than biofeedback.
  9. Tai chi. An ancient Chinese practice, tai chi combines meditation with slow, graceful movements, deep breathing, and relaxation, and is used for patients with tension headaches.
  10. Dietary supplements. Never take supplements without checking with your doctor first, to avoid potentially harmful reactions.

The American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society have classified various supplements for their effectiveness in preventing migraine headaches. For instance, butterbur, effective; feverfew, magnesium, and riboflavin, probably effective; and coenzyme Q10, possibly effective.

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