Natural Headache Relief Remedies for Tension Headaches
If you’ve ever had a headache so bad you couldn’t function, you aren’t alone. Approximately 45 million Americans suffer from headaches every year. That’s literally one in six people. More important to note, is that women suffer from headaches more than men. So just what is causing all these headaches? And are there natural headache relief remedies that actually work?
I get headaches at least once a month. It’s kind of par for the course. Living with fibromyalgia is not always easy, but it is manageable. And managing frequent headaches is just part of that process. Typically I get a visual migraine when my body is going through hormone changes due to my monthly cycle. However, I get tension headaches a lot more often. And they can be brutal.
As I’m writing this in fact, I’ve been in the midst of a chronic tension headache that’s going on it’s third week. While it’s eased up and actually responds to medication at this point, I’m still struggling to not only find relief but to make it disappear. Because let’s face it, pain affects your quality of life.
What are tension headaches?
The most common headaches that women get are tension headaches. Typically caused by stress and tension in the back and neck, these headaches result in a dull pain, pressure and tightness either in the back of the head or around the forehead. Tension headaches usually start gradually, worsening throughout the day. While they don’t interfere with vision and balance in the way that migraines do, they can last for long periods of time, for days and even weeks. So while a normal tension headache doesn’t generally disrupt daily activities, a chronic headache can, and often does interfere in other ways.
I find that chronic tension headaches are particularly tasking on my emotional well being. As they can cause disrupted sleep as well as intense pain, any type of chronic pain will wear on one’s constitution. This can lead to irritability, tiredness, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, muscle aches and mild sensitivity to light or noise in addition to the pain. Typically tension headaches will last anywhere from a half hour to several days. When this happens, these headaches are called episodic tension headaches. Episodic tension headaches last fifteen days or less. However, tension headaches that last beyond this time frame are referred to as chronic tension headaches.
Up to 80% of adults in the United States will have a tension headache at some point in their lives. While approximately 3% of the population will experience chronic daily tension headaches. As women, we are twice as likely to experience tension headaches than men.
I think, that as women, we are expected to handle more emotional weight than men. Combined with the stressors involved with raising a family, working and constant hormone changes throughout our lives, we, as women, often take on more than we can handle either by necessity or a sense of duty. In turn, this has consequences on both our emotional and physical well being. As such, tension headaches are one of the ways our bodies respond to overwhelming stress.
How to reduce your chance of developing a tension headache.
Because tension headaches are caused by stress, you can reduce your chances of developing a tension headache by avoiding the triggers that cause them. Typical triggers that cause the muscle tension that leads to tension headaches include anxiety, not getting enough rest, poor posture, anxiety, fatigue and hunger as well as low levels of iron. You can also develop tension headaches from overuse of certain medications.
As someone with fibromyalgia, muscle tension is often a daily part of my life in addition to chronic pain. Therefore those of us who have fibromyalgia often experience tension headaches on a regular, if not chronic, basis. Through my own personal experience, I’ve found that my chronic headaches often go hand-in-hand with fibro fog – a condition that is demonstrated by decreased energy levels, fatigue and difficulty thinking clearly.
Natural Headache Relief Remedies for Tension Headaches
For those of us who also experience migraines, you are likely aware that taking magnesium supplements can help to thwart migraines from presenting. However there is little evidence that magnesium has an effect on tension headaches. So what natural headache relief remedies do work for tension headaches?
The typical treatment for a tension headache is often over the counter medication. However, as mentioned earlier, frequent use of over the counter medication to treat tension headaches – such as Advil or Tylenol – can lead to rebound headaches. Additionally, over the counter pain medications have their own set of side effects. Overuse of ibuprofen can cause upset stomach while acetaminophen is terrible for your liver. So while your first instinct for treating your tension headache may be to grab a bottle of over the counter pain medication, your body will experience fewer side effects by instead turning to one of these natural headache relief remedies.
Natural Headache Relief Remedy: Stress Management
Learning how to better manage stress in your life can help you avoid tension headaches in the future. Just as reducing the stress you’re under, can ease a tension headache that’s already in play. Try learning relaxation techniques, such as meditation, to calm your mind and ease muscle tension in your body. You should also try to get an adequate amount of sleep each night in addition to getting regular exercise and trying to avoid triggers wherever possible.
Natural Headache Relief Remedy: Acupuncture
For many people, acupuncture is another option for a natural headache relief remedy. Acupuncture is beneficial at not only reducing and treating pain, it can also reduce stress. Back when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I explored acupuncture as a natural method to bring my pain levels under control. Not only did I find acupuncture beneficial for reducing my pain, it also helped me to relax and ease a large portion of the tension in my body. (You can read about my early experiences with acupuncture here.)
Natural Headache Relief Remedy: Biofeedback
Biofeedback allows you to track your body’s activities on a screen. So you are able to learn how your body responds to certain stimuli. Through this, it’s believed that you can be taught how to gain control over things your body normally handles automatically. There is data that supports biofeedback as a credible solution to treating tension headaches. Specifically, when used in conjunction with relaxation, one study shows that tension headaches were reduced by 50%.
What biofeedback does in basically monitor tension in your neck, jaw, and temples. Through biofeedback you can then learn how to relax those areas. If biofeedback isn’t an option for you, simple breathing exercises that relax the body may also offer significant benefit.
Natural Headache Relief Remedy: Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is another natural headache relief alternative. There is some evidence that suggests applying peppermint essential oil to your forehead and temples is as effective as taking two extra strength Tylenol. While research still needs to be done to confirm this with absolute certainty, the cooling effect of applying peppermint oil along your hairline can help to relax the muscles in your face and neck.
Tension Headache Relief Massage Oil Recipe
To make a simple tension headache relief massage oil for your neck, back and shoulders, combine 1/4 cup sweet almond oil with 8 drops of lavender essential oil, 5 drops peppermint essential oil and 2 drops of chamomile essential oil. Combine the ingredients in a glass bottle and shake well prior to each use.
Tension Headache Relief Pillow
To make a tension headache relief pillow, cut two pieces of linen down to 10″ x 4″ pieces. Sew the two pieces together, leaving one end open, to fill with herbs. (Alternately, you can also use Aleene’s OK To Wash-It glue.) Fill your pillow with a mix of 1/2 part flax seeds, 1 part dried peppermint leaf, 1 part dried lavender buds and 1 part dried chamomile flowers. If desired, you can also add six drops each of lavender and peppermint essential oils. Then sew up the end of the pillow. Use the pillow either warm or cold as needed.
Natural Headache Relief Roller Bottle
You can also make a natural headache relief essential oil roller bottle blend. Combine 1 oz. of either magnesium oil or fractionated coconut oil with 10 drops of peppermint essential oil, 5 drops of frankincense essential oil, 10 drops of lavender essential oil and 10 drops of chamomile essential oil. Remove the roller ball and stop from a 1 oz. roller bottle. Add the essential oils to the roller bottle first. Then follow with either magnesium oil or fractionated coconut oil. Place the roller ball and stop back onto the bottle, then shake well to combine. Roll the oil onto your neck, shoulders and back as needed.
Tension Headache Aromatherapy Roller Bottle Blend
You can also apply a targeted essential oil blend to your temples, above your eyebrows and at the base of your neck. To make an aromatherapy roller bottle for your tension headaches, fill an empty 10 mL roller bottle with 10 drops peppermint essential oil, 6 drops lavender essential oil and 5 drops frankincense essential oil. Then fill the remainder of the bottle with fractionated coconut oil or another neutral scented carrier oil. Shake to mix then apply as needed at the onset of symptoms.
Natural Headache Relief Support: B-Complex Vitamins
While B-complex vitamins may not actually ease a tension headache, studies show that taking a vitamin B-complex can help to lower the stress levels that lead to the development of tension headaches.
Natural Headache Relief Support: Detox Bath
Detox baths not only help to rid the body of toxins, they can also help to ease tension. A simple way to create a natural detox bath is to add either one cup of baking soda or one cup of Epsom salt to warm, running bath water. You can add any of the essential oils mentioned previously for their aromatherapeutic benefits as desired.
I recommend trying peppermint essential oil, lavender essential oil, frankincense essential oil, lemongrass essential oil or sandalwood essential oil – or your favorite calming or cooling essential oil blend. You may also find my pain relief bath bombs recipe with peppermint essential oil especially soothing.
Alternately, Spark Naturals sells an LXR – Anxiety Essential Oil Blend that I highly recommend. This proprietary blend of Lavender, Spruce, Rosewood, Blue Chamomile, Frankincense, Sweet Marjoram, Roman Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, Sandalwood and Vanilla help to ease the suffering of anxiety, depression and emotional stress. This blend would work great both in the bath or in a roller bottle with a carrier oil. (Buy it here.)
Natural Headache Relief Remedy: Pain Relief Salves
Another natural headache relief remedy for tension headaches is Tiger Balm, or another similar product. This herbal ointment is made with natural ingredients like peppermint and camphor essential oils. It can be used in the same way as a natural headache relief roller bottle with peppermint essential oil. Simply apply the product to your areas of pain such as the back of your head and neck or your forehead for a cooling sensation. Or try my cooling natural sore muscle salt scrub recipe.
You can also make your own tension headache salve with just two simple ingredients. Simply combine Spark Naturals Base Salve with their LXR – Anxiety Essential Oil Blend to desired strength to ease tension and stress.
Alternately, a cayenne sore muscle salve is another effective remedy. When used to massage tight areas in your back, shoulders and neck, a cayenne pain relief salve eases tension and relaxes the muscles that led to your tension headache in the first place.
You can find a great collection of natural home remedies here or try Finn Naturals All Natural Organic Cayenne Salve. Their organic cayenne pain salve is all natural and handmade. It is helpful for arthritis, headaches, back pain, muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, neuropathy and other types of chronic pain. Or, if like me you also suffer from fibromyalgia, you may find the Fibro Survival Deluxe Set or the Fibro Flare Pain Elixir from Botanical Delight especially suited to your specialized needs.
Cayenne Pain Relief Salve Recipes
You can also make your own natural, warming pain relief salves to ease tension headaches. Following are a few recipes you can try.
- Chocolate & Lavender Scented Cayenne Pain Relief Salve
- Arnica & Ginger Pain Relief Salve Recipe
- Warming Chili & Chocolate Sore Muscle Salve Recipe
- Homemade Ginger Salve Recipe
- Simple Cayenne & Ginger Pain Relief Massage Oil Recipe
Natural Headache Relief Remedy: Hot or Cold Compresses
When I first got my tension headache, it was pretty brutal. By the third day it was unbearable. I was practically in tears and I wasn’t sleeping. Over the counter medication had absolutely no effect on it. So, like you, I googled for natural headache relief remedies for tension headaches. This was one of the first options that popped up for naturally treating tension headaches that didn’t require any special products.
I tried a cold compress on the lower back of my head first. It worked ok at relieving some of the pain. So I tried a warm compress next. Basically I just used a heating pad along the back of my head, neck and back. It really relieved my tension headache enough that I was able to feel like I could function again.
If you don’t have a heating pad, you can heat up a damp towel or cloth in the microwave for the same purpose. Just be sure it’s not too hot. You don’t want to accidentally burn your skin.
Natural Headache Relief Remedy: Moving & Stretching
Those of us who spend long hours working at a desk, or even window shopping for soapmaking supplies online (wink wink,) are especially prone to tension headaches. Even if you aren’t bending and hunching over your keyboard 24/7, your back, shoulders and neck can still develop a lot of tension from sitting in the same position all day.
Regardless of whether or not you have a desk job, you really should be up and exercising whenever possible. When I worked for another company, I used to do push ups in my office to help relieve the tension in my back and shoulders. Not only did it ease the muscle tension, it helped with the fibro as well. I also did a lot of stretching while sitting at my desk. During lunch breaks, I would lap the warehouse where our offices were located. It these things are prohibitive to you, simply moving your head in a circular motion does wonders for relieving the built up stress that leads to tension headaches.
Now that I work at home I try to get up and walk around more often. Some days – well on good days – I turn on my favorite playlist and shake my butt a bit. Kind of that, dance like no one is watching sort of thing. Not only does it lift my mood, but it releases tension as well. Ideally, you should be taking a quick break to stretch every 30 to 60 minutes. Dancing is optional, but highly recommended.
In the same realm of thought, yoga is also a wonderful way to relieve both tension and stress. Not only does it help to loosen your muscles, it also improves respiration, vitality and muscle strength. Simple basic yoga poses such as downward facing dog and the child’s pose are both easy ways to fend off a tension headache.
Natural Headache Relief Support: Put Down That Device!
Looking down at your smartphone for extended periods of time puts a LOT of pressure on your neck. In fact, it’s an extra 20-30 lbs. of pressure! Insane, right? And, I mean, do you really don’t need to spend 40 minutes playing Angry Birds Match just because you won unlimited lives. Likewise you’ll also probably want to hold off on giving yourself that new pedicure. Why not get one done professionally and enjoy some self care instead? That said, take breaks from your smartphone already! There’s an entire world out there just waiting for you to enjoy it!
When Natural Headache Relief Remedies Just Don’t Work
Sometimes natural headache relief remedies just don’t work. I tried a natural remedy because over the counter medication just wasn’t doing anything for my tension headache. While warm heat relieved the pain enough so it was bearable, it wasn’t working as a long term solution.
Having fibromyalgia makes my symptoms a little trickier to treat. (I once felt like I’d pulled a muscle for two weeks just from pulling my shirt off up and over my head!) I’m experiencing an insane amount of stress right now. I’m worried about making it as a self-employed writer. I have a lot of debt. I lost my health insurance. And my ex and I got the ball rolling on the whole divorce thing last week. (Only a few more weeks til it’s done.) And then there’s the chronic pain. So I made a really tough decision for myself. I went back on SSRI’s to treat my anxiety.
If you’ve followed my blog or even my social media channels for a long time, then you probably know that I have worked really hard to make lifestyle and nutrition changes to come off of all the prescription medications used to treat my fibromyalgia. The tramadol and the Lyrica were the first to go – and one of the best decisions of my life.
A while back I started taking an incredibly low dose of Celexa. My anxiety was high and I had a lot of tension. Muscle relaxers didn’t help with the tension and I ended up with TMJ. I’d moved out of my apartment into another town to escape some terrible upstairs neighbors who would scream at one another until three in the morning and abused their dog.
I was commuting a much longer distance back and forth to work (which especially sucks with fibro) and I was starting to have panic attacks while driving. The long stretch of road I had to commute down to get to my day job in Roanoke had multiple accidents a day. They actually put a sign up warning drivers to slow down. Over 400 people a year die on that road.
Once I was taking 20mg of Celexa for about two or three weeks, my jaw tension disappeared completely. I moved back to Roanoke. I impulsively got married. Six months later we split and I’ve been living with my best friend ever since. I started therapy. And then I weaned myself off of the SSRI completely. Since then I’ve been working on discontinuing my use of muscle relaxers entirely. I’ve tried a plethora of herbal supplements including skullcap and passionflower (which helps some) and CBD oil.
The CBD oil was by far the best substitute for the Flexeril’s – a muscle relaxer that helps with both muscle spasms and tension as well as some pain. As it’s not recommended you take flexeril for long periods of time, this was the last prescription medication I was holding onto. However, CBD is not at all an affordable option for me at the daily amount and dosage that I’d need to stop my medication. Which is a shame because it offers so many other health benefits. Plus it’s pretty miraculous at calming anxiety. (Coming from the girl who used to have agoraphobia.)
So, for me to have to admit to myself, that short term I needed to start taking the Celexa again – it was hard. I didn’t want to. At the same time however, I couldn’t function. So, despite my desire to be free of medications once and for all, I still have a little ways to go. I’m okay with that though because I know that one day I will get there.
While modern SSRI’s are not believed to be as effective at treating tension headaches as a tricyclic antidepressant, there is some evidence that, based on the individual’s situation, they can offer some relief. As much of my tension headache was coming from both stress and anxiety – I can be a chronic worrier – in addition to muscle tension, the Celexa has offered significant relief. It’s also within my budget.
A 30-day dose of just 20mg of (generic) citrolopram only costs $17. Whereas the amount and dosage of CBD I needed runs $140 per month at minimum, assuming I have no bad days. This is both frustrating and infuriating at the same time. That there are natural, healthier alternatives to modern pharmaceuticals out there that aren’t within the reach of so many who are in chronic pain. However that is another kettle of fish entirely.
While I am still having rebound headaches – they have not gone away entirely – I am feeling and functioning significantly better than I was before.
If you are experiencing chronic headaches, there could be an underlying medical condition. So please see a doctor if your headaches persist. I know my headaches are tension headaches. I’ve had CAT scans in the past, with and without contrast, when I was on my journey to have the fibro diagnosed. However, it’s always best not to gamble with your health and be proactive where you need to be.
If you’ve stuck with me through this entire article, I hope you are able to glean some benefit from the contents. I’d also love for you to share comments on your own personal experiences and successful natural headache relief remedies.
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This article is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice and is provided for informational purposes only. Information on products mentioned are based on my own personal experience and have not been evaluated by the FDA. Please consult a physician prior to making any changes that may impact your health.