Woman with washcloth on forehead
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Rest in a Dark, Quiet Room

Stress is one of the main causes of headaches. Relieving tense muscles may help calm tension headaches, the most common type of headache. People who have tension headaches may also feel overly sensitive to either light or sound. Rest or sit in a dimly lit room. Close your eyes and try to relax your back, neck, and shoulders.

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Woman selecting OTC medication from medicine chest
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Headache? Try Caffeine.

Caffeine may help relieve headache symptoms by helping pain relief drugs work better and faster. Caffeine added to pain relievers can make them more effective in treating headaches. That’s why caffeine is often an ingredient in medications.

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Woman breathing for headache relief
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Relax to Ease Pain

Deep breathing exercises and mental imagery may reduce stress and ease headache pain. This quick technique combines both: Take several deep breaths. Exhale slowly, relaxing areas that feel tight and cramped, while picturing a peaceful scene. Drop your chin toward your chest, then gently and slowly rotate your head in a half circle from one side to the other. Take another deep breath and exhale slowly.

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Woman in steam shower with headache
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Treat Pain With Heat or Cold

Cold and heat may relieve pain and muscle tension that can accompany headaches. A hot shower or moist heat applied to the back of the neck may ease symptoms of infrequent tension headaches. Try a hot water bottle, a warm towel, or a warm compress. If you prefer cold, try wrapping an ice pack in a towel. Then put it where you hurt -- on your forehead, temples, or neck.

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Woman receiving tension headache massage
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Massage Away Tension Headaches

Massage can undo clenched muscles and help you relax, so it can be especially good for stress or tension headaches. Have someone else gently massage your head, neck, and shoulder muscles. Or do it yourself with a targeted mini-massage. Gently rub the painful spot on your head with your fingertips for several seconds. Rest and repeat as needed.

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Woman doing palm to head exercise
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Exercise to Ease Tension

Neck exercises may ease tension headache pain caused by holding your head in one position for too long. Here’s an exercise that may help. Place your palm on your forehead. Using your neck muscles, press forehead lightly forward against palm. Keep your head upright, your hand and arm still for resistance.

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Woman massaging away a headache
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Try an Acupressure Technique

Acupressure may help ease headache pain. Place your thumbs near the base of your skull. Find the depressions on both sides of where your head meets your neck. They are just outside of the thick muscle that runs down the middle (about 2 inches from the center). Press in and slightly upward with your thumbs until you feel slight pain. While pressing move your thumbs in small circles for 1-2 minutes.

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Man picking up an OTC pain reliever
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Over-the-Counter Headache Medication

Over-the-counter drugs acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium can ease headache pain. Drugs that combine acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine may work better for some people than when each is taken alone. But using any headache medicine for more than three days a week may cause medication overuse headaches. See your doctor if you need medication this often.

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A woman receiving acupuncture for headache
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Acupuncture for Headaches

In this form of Chinese medicine, a practitioner places fine needles at certain points in your body. Stimulating these points may release your body's natural painkillers -- endorphins -- to ease neck, shoulder, and head pain. Some studies have found that when done as preventive therapy over several months, acupuncture may reduce the number of tension headaches people get. Acupuncture can be done on its own or with other treatments. 

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Doctors appointment reminder in planner
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When to Call a Doctor for Headaches

See your doctor if your headaches are frequent or last more than a few days. Get immediate medical help if your headache is sudden and severe, occurs after a head injury, or is the worst you have ever had. It’s also important to get urgent care if your headache is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, seizures, numbness, double vision, dizziness, severe nausea, shortness of breath, or confusion.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/20/2016 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on December 20, 2016


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(4)    joSon / Stone+
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(7)    Steve Pomberg / WebMD
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MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health: "Headache."
Cleveland Clinic: "Stress and Headaches," "Relaxation and Other Alternative Approaches for Managing Headaches," "Caffeine and Headache," "Relaxation and Other Alternative Approaches for Managing Headaches," "Sinus Headaches," "Self-Care Treatment for Headaches," "When to Call the Doctor About Your Headache Symptoms."
WebMD Medical Reference: "Alternative Treatments for Migraines and Headaches," "Rebound Headaches," "Migraines, Headaches, and Caffeine," "Acupressure Points and Massage Treatment."
Migliardi, J. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, November 1994; vol 56: pp 576-86.
Mayo Clinic: "Tension Headache: Lifestyle and Home Remedies," "Tension headache: Treatments and drugs."
National Pain Foundation: "Exercise and Headaches."
University of Maryland Medical Center: "Headache -- Overview."
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Tension Headaches – Topic Overview."
Chinese Holistic Health Exercises: "Acupressure for Relieving Headaches."
Family Doctor: "Migraine Headaches: Ways to Deal With the Pain."

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on December 20, 2016

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.