A guide to headache remedies

Relaxation techniques

Best for: Soothing stress before a headache starts.

How they work: Simple deep breathing and stretching (neck and shoulder rolls, in particular) relax tense muscles that trigger headaches, says Sheena Aurora, M.D., the director of the Swedish Headache Center, in Seattle.

 

Cold or heat therapy

Best for: Medicine-free relief from minor tension headaches (which, unlike migraines, aren’t debilitating).

How it works: Experts aren’t sure precisely why each therapy is effective, but cold slows blood flow and reduces inflammation, and heat increases blood flow; both of these may ease pain.

 

Caffeine

Best for: Mild tension headaches.

How it works: “One way that caffeine may help is by blocking brain receptors to adenosine, a neurotransmitter that can cause blood vessels to dilate and create pressure,” says Rosenberg.

 

Peppermint Tea

Best for: Those whose headaches are accompanied by an upset stomach.

How it works: “There’s evidence that peppermint may reduce spasms in the gastrointestinal tract, which can relieve headache symptoms,” says Audrey L. Halpern, M.D., the director of the Manhattan Center for Headache and Neurology.

 

Over-the-counter medications

Best for: Headaches that do not respond to other remedies.

How they work: Acetaminophen products, like Tylenol, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), like Aleve and aspirin, decrease inflammation and inhibit chemicals in the brain that produce pain.

 

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