Here it comes—the beginning of that dull, throbbing pain of a tension headache. But what if you want to feel better without turning to over-the counter or prescription medications? We have some natural approaches that you may want to try!
If you are desperately looking for a way to manage tension headaches without the use of drugs, here are some alternative treatments that may either prevent or help relieve tension headaches:
Acupuncture is a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine that has become popular in the United States. This treatment involves inserting very fine needles into specific locations on the surface of the body. There are many different types of acupuncture, including a technique that uses laser beams instead of needles. There have been studies supporting the use of acupuncture to prevent tension headaches.
If you are interested in trying this treatment, do your research. Ask your doctor to recommend a qualified acupuncturist who has experience in treating headaches. Read your health insurance policy to find out if acupuncture visits are covered. Keep in mind, too, that most states require acupuncturists to be licensed.
Biofeedback is a way to control processes that are normally involuntary. A biofeedback session involves having sensors attached to your body. These sensors are connected to a biofeedback machine, which translates the data into an image on a monitor or a sound. For example, if you undergo biofeedback for tension headaches, a therapist can teach your strategies to reduce the tension in your muscles, which in turn would produce a less dramatic image on the screen or a quieter sound.
Since not all states require biofeedback therapists to have a license, proceed cautiously. Make sure that the person has been trained in biofeedback and has experience treating tension headaches. Ask your doctor to recommend a qualified therapist. In addition, look into your insurance plan to find out if the sessions are covered.
Chiropractic is a common treatment that typically involves hands-on manipulation of the vertebrae in the spine. While you may think that chiropractic is only used for back pain, there are actually a range of other conditions that chiropractors can treat, including headaches and pain in other areas of the body. Other providers, such as Osteopathic doctors, may also perform some spinal manipulation.
If you are interested in working with a chiropractor, you can ask your doctor for a referral or search a professional website, such as the American Chiropractic Association. All chiropractors must have a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree, and they must have a license to work in your state. Most insurance plans do pay for chiropractic care.
Relaxation therapies include a range of different techniques. Guided imagery is one example that may be helpful. This involves working with a therapist to learn how to use all of your senses to focus on a particular, calming image. Practicing guided imagery can bring your body to a state of deep relaxation.
States do not require a license for this type of treatment. But there are certification programs for guided imagery, and many practitioners are licensed mental health therapists or nurses. Again, your doctor may be able to recommend someone who has experience in guided imagery.
If you want to break the cycle of tension headaches, you have many options to try! Taking over-the-counter or prescription medications does not have to be the answer for you. Now may be the right time to look into alternative treatments.
American Chiropractic Association
National Headache Foundation
Acupuncture. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated August 2013. Accessed April 18, 2014.
Biofeedback. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated July 2012. Accessed April 18, 2014.
Bove G, Nilsson N. Spinal manipulation in the treatment of episodic tension-type headache: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1998;280(18):1576-1579.
Chiropractic. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated July 2012. Accessed April 18, 2014.
Guided imagery. Breast Cancer.org website. Available at: http://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/comp_med/types/imagery.jsp. Updated May 31, 2013. Accessed April 18, 2014.
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for tension-type headache. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1):CD007587.
Mannix LK, Chandurkar RS, Rybicki LA, Tusek DL, Solomon GD. Effect of guided imagery on quality of life for patients with chronic tension-type headache. Headache. 1999;39(5):326-334.
Nestoriuc Y, Rief W, Martin A. Meta-analysis of biofeedback for tension-type headache: efficacy, specificity, and treatment moderators. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008;76(3):379-396.
Relaxation therapies. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated July 2012. Accessed April 17, 2014.
Tension headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 17, 2014. Accessed April 18, 2014.
Tension headache. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/academic/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated July 2012. Accessed April 18, 2014.
Last reviewed April 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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