Lifestyle Changes to Manage Headache

Lifestyle changes can help ease headaches. Some changes can limit the number or strength of each type of headache.

Managing Tension Headaches

Workout Often

Physical activity can help control stress. Aim for 30 minutes at time on most days of the week. Start out slowly and add to your routine over time. Talk to your doctor before you start any workout program.

Fix Your Posture

Poor posture leads to tension headaches. Don't slouch. Hold the phone or use a headset. Don't cradle it on your shoulder. Think about seeing a physical or occupational therapist for posture tips that may help you.

Ease Stress

Stress can lead to a headache. A therapist can work with you to find ways to manage stress and relax. You can also get help finding out which events start your headaches and how to resolve them.

Get Enough of Sleep

Normal sleep routines will help you fall asleep. Sleep helps ease tension and irritability.

Take Breaks From Tasks

Taking breaks helps stop your muscles from tightening up and can ease stress.

Limit Stimuli During a Headache

  • Put an ice pack or heat pack on your head or neck to ease pain.
  • Lie in a dark, quiet room.
  • Massage your temples and neck.
  • Use relaxation methods.

Managing Migraines

Keep a Headache Diary

Write down what starts your migraines and what eases them. This will help you and your doctor craft a plan to treat them.

Don't Overuse Pain Medicine

Overuse of pain medicine can make your headaches worse.

Ease Stress

Stress can lead to a headache. A therapist can work with you to find ways to manage stress and relax.

Workout Often

Working out helps control stress and ease depression. Swimming and walking can lower the number and strength of migraine headaches. However, working out can start a migraine attack in some people. Talk to your doctor about the activities you can do.

Don't Eat Foods That Start Your Migraines

Some foods bring on migraines. Don't eat foods that cause your headaches. These may be:

  • Chocolate
  • Any foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG), tyramine, or nitrates
  • Alcohol, mainly red wine
  • Aspartame

Eat Small Meals More Often

If low blood sugar happens before your migraines, eating small amounts of food more often may help keep your blood sugar from dropping.

Don't Change Your Sleep Pattern on the Weekend or During Vacation

Sleeping and waking at the same times may help prevent headaches.

Limit Stimuli During an Attack

  • Use cold packs on painful places on your head.
  • Lie in a dark, quiet room.
  • Apply gentle pressure to your temples.

Managing Cluster Headaches

Find a doctor who is a headache expert. Work with your doctor to craft a plan to treat and prevent your headaches.

Don't Drink Alcohol

Even a small amount of alcohol can start a headache during a cluster period.

Ease Stress

Stress can lead to a headache. A therapist can work with you to find ways to manage stress and relax.

Don't Smoke

Tobacco use has been linked to cluster headaches. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about the best ways you can quit.

Don't Overuse Pain Medicine

Overuse of pain medicine can make your headaches worse.

Managing Sinus Headaches

Keep Nasal Passages Moist

This can be done by:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
  • Breathing in warm, moist air
  • Using a mist of salt water nasal spray up to 6 times a day
  • Nasal irrigation—ask your doctor how to do this at home

Avoid Exposure to Things that Trigger Allergy or Sinus Symptoms

Allergic reactions raise the amount of mucus in and swelling of the nasal passages. This can lead to sinusitis.

Get Help for Allergies or a Lasting Cold

Getting help for allergies and colds helps prevent sinusitis. If you are prone to sinus problems, ask your doctor about using a decongestant before air travel. This will help keep nasal passages open.

Wash Your Hands Often to Avoid Colds

Hand washing helps prevent colds and other infections passed from the hand to the nose, mouth, or eyes. Colds raise the amount of mucus in and swelling of the nasal passages, which can lead to sinusitis.

Don't Drink Alcohol

Alcohol can cause swelling of nasal and sinus tissues.

Don't Smoke

Don't smoke. Also, avoid second-hand smoke and polluted air. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about the best ways you can quit.

Don't Overuse Pain Medicine

Overuse of pain medicine can make your headaches worse.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Call your doctor if your headaches don't get better with lifestyle changes and prescribed medicine.

References

Cluster headache. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116292/Cluster-headache. Updated February 16, 2016. Accessed January 9, 2019.
Dihydroergotamine. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T233099/Dihydroergotamine. Accessed January 9, 2019.
Headaches, migraine. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscoh.... Updated December 14, 2018. Accessed January 9, 2019.
Migraine in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114718/Migraine-in-adults. Updated November 8, 2018. Accessed January 9, 2019.
NINDS headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Headache-Information-Page. Updated July 13, 2018. Accessed January 9, 2019.
Sumatriptan. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T233503/Sumatriptan. Updated November 6, 2018. Accessed January 9, 2019.
Tension-type headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated February 8, 2017. Accessed January 9, 2019.
Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 1/7/2019

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