Massage therapy can help reduce the muscle tension that can cause a headache or trigger a migraine. A serene massage session can also help reduce the stress that can cause or aggravate headaches and migraines.
Between massages, you can do a lot yourself to calm your throbbing head.
If you suspect that your headache might be related to a movement pattern – binge-watching TV, staring into a computer screen, watching a tennis match, etc. – take a break. Simply stopping the activities that are stressing your eyes and your neck and head muscles may begin to reduce your pain.
Headaches can be caused by the head-forward posture that comes from staring into a computer screen for long stretches. As you peer forward into your monitor, your head juts out in front of your body.
A similar pattern can result from peering into the windshield on long car trips or from the shoulder-hunching the can come with psychological stress.
The muscle-guarding pattern that accompanies some shoulder and neck injuries can also lead to forward-head posture.
Regardless of the cause, the ensuing postural strain on the muscles in your neck and shoulders can contribute to a tension headache or trigger a migraine.
Forward-Head Posture Correction
Reversing head-forward posture can reduce the muscle strain that’s causing your headache.
The quickest solution is to simply tuck your chin down and slide your head backward. This motion first (the tuck) repositions your head correctly in relation to your neck and second (the slide back) restores the normal curve in your neck. The end result is a longer-feeling neck and better balance between the muscles on the front and back of your neck.
You can also try one or more of these head-retraction exercises.
A poorly situated computer monitor can lead to eye strain and/or contribute to head-forward posture.
Position your computer monitor so that it lets you adopt that tucked-chin, long-neck posture.
The screen should be about 20-40 inches from your eyes, depending on the size of your monitor. The top edge of the screen should be at or a little below eye level. The bottom edge should be a little closer to you than the top (so that the plane of the screen is parallel to that of your eyes).
The monitor should be stable, to prevent wiggling.
Visit the OSHA website for more on computer-monitor ergonomics.
If you sleep in a position that strains your shoulder and neck muscles, you can be at more risk for headaches and migraines.
Make sure that your mattress, pillow, and bedding let you sleep in as neutral a posture as possible.
Movement & Exercise
“Motion is lotion,” they say. Simply moving your head and neck can help alleviate the muscle tension that can trigger a headache.
Once you have tucked your chin and pulled your head back to its normal position, try moving your neck and head.
- rotate your head side to side
- laterally flex your head, taking your ear toward your shoulder on each side
- flex and extend your head and neck, looking down to the floor and then up to the ceiling
You may instinctively rub your head when you get a headache. That’s a great start for your self-massage.
You can fine-tune your self-massage to address the muscles that are often involved in headaches.
Use a firm shampooing circular motion to rub the muscles on your forehead (frontalis), above and in front of your ears (temporalis), and at the base of your skull (occipitalis).
Follow the terrain down into your neck and shoulders, too, stroking and squeezing the muscles that connect your head to your shoulders.
More headache self-massage ideas here.
The Mayo Clinic and others recommend drinking plenty of water to keep headaches at bay.
You can also try applying a hot or cold compress directly on the painful area and adjacent structures. Or use a heating pad or hot water bottle.
A warm bath or shower can alleviate stress that may contribute to your headache or migraine.
Other Self-Care Ideas
The Mayo Clinic, MedlinePlus, and others suggest keeping a diary to identify activities and habits that may trigger headache.
A nap or some meditation can reduce any over-stimulation that contribute to your headache. If you’re stuck at a computer for long hours or are glued to TV screen binge watch, close eyes or look away from the screen once in a while.
Talk to your doctor if you have questions about analgesics and other medications.
When to Seek Professional Help
- if your headaches increase in frequency or severity (several of the sources below mention “worst headache of your life”)
- headache accompanied by symptoms like fever, nausea, fatigue, etc.
- if you’ve recently had a head injury
- if the pain prevents you from sleeping
I consulted a number of journalistic and scholarly articles as I wrote this page. These were the most useful.
- Self-Care Treatments for Headaches, Cleveland Clinic
- Tension-type headaches: Self-care measures for relief, Mayo Clinic
- Self Care of Frequent Headache, Self Care Journal
- Self Care Forum Fact Sheet No. 6: Headache, Self Care Forum
- Managing tension headaches at home, MedlinePlus
- Prophylactic non-pharmacological management of primary headaches with education and self management, National Clinical Guideline Centre (UK)
- A clinical trial of a self-care approach to the management of chronic headache in general practice, Social Science & Medicine