Self-management

Lifestyle and home remedies

Rest, ice packs or a long, hot shower may be all you need to relieve a tension headache. A variety of strategies can help reduce the severity and frequency of chronic tension headaches without using medicine. Try some of the following:

  • Manage your stress level. One way to help reduce stress is by planning ahead and organizing your day. Another way is to allow more time to relax. And if you're caught in a stressful situation, consider stepping back.
  • Go hot or cold. Applying heat or ice — whichever you prefer — to sore muscles may ease a tension headache. For heat, use a heating pad set on low, a hot-water bottle, a warm compress or a hot towel. A hot bath or shower also may help. For cold, wrap ice, an ice pack or frozen vegetables in a cloth to protect your skin.
  • Perfect your posture. Good posture can help keep your muscles from tensing. When standing, hold your shoulders back and your head level. Pull in your abdomen and buttocks. When sitting, make sure your thighs are parallel to the ground and your head isn't slumped forward.

Coping and support

Living with chronic pain can be difficult. Chronic pain can make you anxious or depressed and affect your relationships, your productivity and the quality of your life.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk to a counselor or therapist. Talk therapy may help you cope with the effects of chronic pain.
  • Join a support group. Support groups can be good sources of information. Group members often know about the latest treatments. Your doctor may be able to recommend a group in your area.

Prevention

In addition to regular exercise, techniques such as biofeedback training and relaxation therapy can help reduce stress.

  • Biofeedback training. This technique teaches you to control certain body responses that help reduce pain. During a biofeedback session, you're connected to devices that monitor and give you feedback on body functions such as muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure. You then learn how to reduce muscle tension and slow your heart rate and breathing yourself.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of talk therapy may help you learn to manage stress and may help reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches.
  • Other relaxation techniques. Anything that helps you relax, including deep breathing, yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, may help your headaches. You can learn relaxation techniques in classes or at home using books or tapes.

Using medications in conjunction with stress management techniques may be more effective than is either treatment alone in reducing your tension headaches.

Additionally, living a healthy lifestyle may help prevent headaches:

  • Get enough, but not too much, sleep.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat regular, balanced meals.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Limit alcohol, caffeine and sugar.