In a stressful world of traffic jams, tight deadlines and high-speed everything, it's no wonder we find ourselves taking an occasional painkiller. However, painkillers are only part of the solution. There's more you can do to escape the thump of a throbbing head.

 

What is a headache?

Specialists have identified a few major types of headache and migraine. Tension headaches seem to be caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck, and they're characterised by dull, steady pressure. Migraines originate with constriction and expansion of blood vessels in the head. They cause throbbing pain often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light or sound. Agonising cluster headaches are sometimes triggered by drinking or smoking. They come episodically in groups, or ‘clusters’, followed by periods of remission. Headaches can be relieved with a variety of remedies. For a bad headache, if you do prefer to take painkillers, take 2x 500mg paracetamol tablets or 2x 200mg ibuprofen. Aspirin is an effective painkiller but is not suitable for anyone under 16 years, or who has an allergy to aspirin.

Natural headache cures

Gently massage a little lavender oil onto your forehead and temples, then lie back and enjoy the relaxing scent. For maximum relief, slip away to a room that's cool, dark and quiet. The longer you can lie there quietly breathing in the aroma, the better.

In addition to lavender oil–or instead of it–use peppermint oil. The menthol contained in peppermint can help dissolve away a headache. Its fragrance at first stimulates, then relaxes, the nerves that cause headache pain.

If you have a vaporiser, add 7 drops of lavender oil and 3 drops of peppermint oil, then breathe in the relief. Alternatively, try sprinkling a few drops of peppermint oil onto a tissue. Inhale deeply several times.

Wring out 2 wet peppermint tea bags and place them on your closed eyelids or forehead for 5 minutes.

Get passionate about herbal remedies, especially the deceptively powerful passionflower. A mild sedative, it decreases the production of pain-causing chemicals in the body and has deeply relaxing properties. Valerian is another herb that works a treat with tension headaches. Both are available from health food shops as teas or tablets.

Tie a headband, scarf or tie around your forehead, then tighten it just to the point where you can feel pressure all around your head. Reducing the flow of blood to your scalp can help to relieve the pain caused by swollen blood vessels. You might also want to try soaking the headband in vinegar, which is also a traditional headache remedy.

Have a cup of strong coffee. Caffeine reduces blood-vessel swelling, and thus can help to relieve a headache. If you are already a heavy coffee drinker, don't try this tip. Caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches, creating a vicious cycle.

Warm and cold treatments for headaches

Believe it or not, soaking your feet in hot water will help your head to feel better. By drawing blood to your feet, the hot-water footbath will ease pressure on the blood vessels in your head. For a really bad headache, add a bit of mustard powder to the water.

For a tension headache, place a hot compress on your forehead or the back of your neck. The heat will help to relax knotted-up muscles in this area.

It might sound contradictory, but you can follow up the heat treatment (or substitute it) by applying a cold compress to your forehead. Wrap a couple of ice cubes in a face washer or use a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel. Cold constricts blood vessels and, when they shrink, they stop pressing on sensitive nerves. Because headache pain sometimes originates in the nerves in the back of your neck, try moving the compress to the muscles at the base of your skull.

Here's an alternative to a cold compress: soak your hands in iced water for as long as you can stand it. While your hands are submerged in the water, repeatedly open and close your fists. The cold works by narrowing dilated blood vessels.

Acupressure for headaches

With a firm, circular motion, massage the web of skin between the base of your thumb and your forefinger. Continue massaging for several minutes, then switch hands and repeat until the pain clears up. Acupressure experts call this fleshy area trigger point LIG4 and maintain that it is linked to areas of the brain where headaches originate.

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