By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT
Headaches are common. So common that a recent study estimates that each day, 1 in nearly 6 people has a headache.
The International Classification of Headache Disorders lists over 150 headache diagnoses, each type having its own causes and treatments.
We won’t cover all of them here, of course, but we want to give you options besides reaching for your favorite pain medicine to manage the most common causes.
1. Move your neck
Muscle tension in the neck can lead to headaches. Get the blood flowing by moving through this sequence, but don’t get hung up on how many repetitions to do. And move within your comfortable range.
- Circle your shoulders by shrugging them up, then circling them back, down, and forward while keeping your arms relaxed at your sides.
- Turn your head left and right, then down and up.
- Drop your ear towards one shoulder, then the other.
2. Try headache nods
This exercise has been a game-changer for those who get headaches from long periods of sitting – at a computer, while driving, etc. It’s best to try this before your headache is more than mildly painful.
- Sit in your best posture.
- Gently pull your head straight back as if to make a double chin but without lowering your chin. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
- While in that retracted, chin-tucked position, add a small nodding motion, like you are saying “yes.”
3. Massage your neck
If you can get a professional massage, go for it, but a simple self-massage may help ease discomfort.
- Rub the tops of your shoulders above your collar bones by grabbing and squeezing the muscles.
- Gently pinch the back of your neck, working your way up to the base of the skull.
- Use your fingertips along the base of your skull, massaging from the neck tissues to the bony skull.
- Gently massage your scalp and temples, around your eyebrows, under your cheekbones, and down to your jawline.
4. Take a walk
Stress, anxiety, and depression can contribute to headaches, and gentle activity like walking or light yoga may help. Also consider meditation or relaxation techniques.
5. Reset Your Posture
Whether sitting or standing, being in a forward-head posture for long periods can lead to muscle tension in your neck and shoulders, which can then cause headaches.
Imagine growing an inch taller as you lift your posture and align your ears over your shoulders. You don’t need to hold yourself perfectly in this posture all day. Move as you would like, but periodically return to this better alignment.
6. Manage environmental elements
Strong smells, prolonged loud noise, or brightness can lead to headaches. Consider the environmental influence and manage as you are able.
Lower the brightness on your computer monitor. Grab your sunglasses for the day on the water. Use ear protection when mowing the lawn. Allow for good ventilation when smells are unavoidable.
7. Unclench your jaw
Jaw clenching or grinding your teeth from stress can create pain around your TMJ, or temporomandibular joint. Headaches often result, so try this resting position of your jaw.
Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth. Allow your jaw to relax so your teeth are apart and lips are together. Periodically remind yourself to return to this position.
8. Drink a glass of water
About 75% of the human body is water. That is if you are taking in the proper amount of water. Dehydration can cause headaches, so fill up that tank if you haven’t been drinking much. Low urine output, dark urine, and thirst are other early signs of dehydration.
9. Take a nap
Inadequate sleep can cause headaches, so take a 10-minute nap, then work on getting a good night’s sleep. This will improve more than just headaches.
What are your tips for resolving a headache?
Know someone who might use this information? Share through one of the links at the top of this post.
Did you know we treat headaches at FYZICAL – Forest Grove, particularly those caused by muscular tension? Contact us if for more information or to schedule an evaluation.
Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist.
Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Stovner, L.J., Hagen, K., Linde, M. et al. The global prevalence of headache: an update, with analysis of the influences of methodological factors on prevalence estimates. J Headache Pain 23, 34 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-022-01402-2
Palmer E. Tension-Type Headache. Richman S, ed. CINAHL Rehabilitation Guide. September 2021. Accessed May 31, 2022. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rrc&AN=T708725&site=eds-live
Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013 Jul;33(9):629-808. doi: 10.1177/0333102413485658. PMID: 23771276.