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Migraine Prevention: Do These Home Remedies Work?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 09, 2020

How do you know if the migraine home remedy you heard about works or is a waste of time? Find out which alternative treatments for headaches might help and which you should avoid.

Treatments That Can Help

Reflexology

Reflexology is a type of massage where a therapist applies pressure to your feet. The idea behind it is that pressure to certain spots on your foot will relieve pain in other areas of your body. Reflexology may ease stress, help you relax or sleep better, and relieve pain. A small study showed that women with migraines who had reflexology treatments twice a week for 5 weeks had less frequent, shorter, and less intensely painful headaches.

Footbaths

Soaking your feet in a warm bath sounds relaxing. But does it ease or prevent migraines? One study showed that people with chronic migraines who soaked their arms and feet in hot water, followed by an ice massage on their heads and took headache medications, every day for 45 days had less frequent and less intense headaches compared to people that took only medications to treat their headaches.

Acupressure

Similar to reflexology, acupressure is a type of massage. You or your therapist can press on certain spots of your body to relieve tension and improve your circulation. These spots are called acupoints. Some evidence shows that acupressure to a spot called the hegu, which is between your index finger and the base of your thumb, may calm headache pain. You can do hegu acupressure several times a day to both hands.

Treatments That May Work for Some

Caffeine

Are you worried that your morning cup of joe or afternoon cola break will trigger a migraine? In fact, a little caffeine can ease pain for some people. Caffeine is used in many over-the-counter headache and migraine medicines. Don’t chug coffee to prevent headaches, though. Your body could go through caffeine withdrawal, which could lead to a headache later on.

About 20% of people with migraines say food and drinks are a headache trigger. If you think caffeine sets off migraines for you, try cutting it out for a while to see if things get better.

Headbands

In one small, older study, people with migraines wore a snug headband that applied pressure to areas of their scalp. The headband eased migraine pain 87% of the time. But when people removed the headband, their migraine pain steadily came back.

Cold Caps

This gel-filled cap fits snugly on your head and chills your scalp. In one recent small study, half of the people who used it felt some relief from migraine symptoms in only 25 minutes. The other half felt nothing and had to take a pain medicine to treat their headache.

Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

Strong smells like perfume can trigger a migraine. Could soothing smells prevent one? One study showed that some people who smelled peppermint essential oil found it made them less sensitive to migraine pain. Peppermint oil may also help prevent a migraine if you sniff it when you’re around someone wearing strong cologne.

Lavender is another essential oil that may prevent or treat migraine pain. One study showed that sniffing lavender oil can treat acute migraine pain. But we need more research on how to use lavender oil to know if it really works for pain relief.

Treatments That Need More Research

These two alternative remedies for migraine prevention or relief don’t work at all and could be risky, so you can skip them.

Daith Piercings

Some people believe that a piercing in the small, tough piece of cartilage in the center of your ear not only eases migraine pain, but prevents headaches permanently.  There are no studies that show this to be true. The piercing hole could also get infected if you don’t clean and care for it correctly.

Gerson Therapy

In the 1920s, a doctor named Max Gerson claimed that eating an organic, vegetarian diet, taking vitamin and mineral supplements, and using coffee or castor oil enemas cured his migraines. Called Gerson therapy, the regimen is still used by some people today to treat all kinds of ailments. But there’s no evidence that it works.

Gerson therapy could also be risky. There are reports that some people died after using coffee enemas as an alternative health treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “What Is Reflexology? Can It Relieve Stress?” “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain.”

Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine: “Effects of feet reflexology versus segmental massage in reducing pain and its intensity, frequency and duration of the attacks in females with migraine: a pilot study.”

Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice: “Influence of hydrotherapy on clinical and cardiac autonomic function in migraine patients.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Headaches and Food,” “Can an Unconventional Piercing Rid You of Migraine Pain?”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Acupressure for Pain and Headaches.”

Headache: “Head band for migraine headache relief.”

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Cold Therapy in Migraine Patients: Open-Label, Non-Controlled Pilot Study,” “Lavender and the Nervous System.”

National Headache Foundation: “Can Aromatherapy Help With Migraine?”

Phytomedicine: “Essential plant oils and headache mechanisms.”

European Neurology: “Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial.”

American Migraine Foundation: “Daith Piercings and Migraines.”

Cancer Research UK: “Gerson Therapy.”

National Cancer Institute: “Gerson Therapy: PDQ Patient Version.”

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