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Healing Therapies for Headaches

Four modalities that treat the whole body for head pain relief
Written by 
Meghan Rabbitt
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 

When your temples are throbbing, it’s hard not to divert all your attention to your head. But when it comes to finding relief, it’s helpful to broaden your focus and remember that your body is a series of interconnected systems and pathways all working together to keep you well.

These treatments take that into account. Though they’re often used for a host of health concerns, all four have been shown to reduce headache frequency and even prevent future pain. If you haven’t found a tried-and-true pain relief solution yet, you may want to consider one of these options.


Acupuncture

It may be hard to believe that acupuncture can stand up to your massive headache, but it just might. Beyond the idea that acupuncture addresses blocked qi (energy), which may contribute to your aches, acupuncture may also encourage the release of pain-relieving endorphins. The effect may even trump that of headache medication: One study showed that those who received standard medical care and 12 acupuncture sessions over three months experienced fewer painful days and reduced their headache medication use by 15 percent, compared to those who only received the former.
 

Reflexology

It is also believed that a reflexology therapist relieves energy blockages that could be contributing to any pain and tension; in this case, he or she does so by applying pressure to specific points on your feet, hands and ears. The effects are similar to those of acupuncture, and research points to what that can mean for your headaches: One study found that six months of reflexology treatments actually cured headache pain for more than 80 percent of sufferers—and almost 20 percent no longer needed the medication they had been taking.
 

Chiropractic Care

By gently adjusting the position of the bones of your spine (using either their hands or a small tool), chiropractors and osteopathic doctors can help realign vertebrae that are in positions that may be contributing to headache-causing tension or nerve pain. Experts at Duke University found that this spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those experiencing mild to moderate headaches caused by neck tension. Several studies suggest effectiveness for migraines, too, with one finding that sufferers who received chiropractic treatment over the course of two months reported a 40 percent decrease in migraine frequency; the therapy was shown to be as effective as the medication amitriptyline.


Massage

Many leave a massage table saying they were so relaxed that their pain just melted away. Beyond the mental benefits of taking time out for yourself in this way, massage encourages your body to let go of any physical tension by improving blood flow to tight, contracted muscles—some of which may be known trigger points for headache pain, like the neck and shoulders. In fact, one study found that massage therapy pinpointing these two areas helps reduce the regularity of chronic tension headaches—a feeling of tightness around your head. Another showed that there was a significant decrease in migraines in those who received massages focused on their back, shoulders, head and neck muscles.


If your doctor prescribed you headache medication, do not stop taking it before consulting him or her. If you do, and you are interested in any of these treatments, bring them up during your discussion. Though they may not provide instant relief, they can be very effective in some people over time.

Reference(s) 
American Chiropractic Association
American College of Physicians
Mayo Clinic
National Institutes of Health
University of Maryland Medical Center
About the author 
Meghan Rabbitt is an editor and writer whose work has been published in Women’s Health, Fitness, Shape, Runner’s World, Prevention, Parents and Weight Watchers.