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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Headache

Almost all headaches respond to lifestyle changes. Specific recommendations are suggested to limit the number or intensity of each type of headache.

Managing Tension Headaches

Exercise Regularly
Exercise can help control stress.
For more information on starting a regular exercise program, click here.
Improve Your Posture
Poor posture contributes to tension headaches. Do not slouch. Hold the phone, rather than cradling it on your shoulder, or use a headset. Consider seeing a physical or occupational therapist for posture tips more specific to your individual situation.
Learn Stress Management Techniques
Stress can contribute to a headache. A mental health professional can work with you to develop stress management skills and learn relaxation techniques. The counselor may be able to help you identify events that trigger the headaches and work toward resolutions.
For more information on reducing stress, click here.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Maintaining regular sleep routines will help you fall asleep. Sleep helps decrease tension and irritability.
For more information on getting a good night of sleep, click here.
Take Breaks From Tasks
Regular breaks help prevent your muscles from tightening up and can decrease stress.
Limit Stimuli During a Headache
  • Put an ice pack or heat pack on your head or neck to ease discomfort.
  • Lie in a dark, quiet room.
  • Massage your temples and neck.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.

Managing Migraine Headaches

Keep a Diary to Help Identify Your Migraine Pattern
Identifying what triggers migraines and what relieves them will help your doctor and you develop a plan to manage your migraines.
Do Not Overuse Pain Medication
Overuse of pain medications can make your headaches worse. Avoid excessive use of these medications.
Learn Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques
Stress can contribute to a headache. A mental health professional can work with you to develop stress management skills and learn relaxation techniques.
For more information on reducing stress, click here.
Exercise Regularly
Exercise helps control stress. Regular swimming and walking can decrease the number and intensity of migraine headaches. However, exercise can trigger a migraine attack in certain individuals.
For more information on starting a regular exercise program, click here.
Avoid Foods That Trigger Migraines
Some foods bring on migraines. Avoid foods that trigger your migraine headaches. These may include:
  • Chocolate
  • Any foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), tyramine, or nitrates
  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Aspartame
Eat Small Meals More Often
If low blood sugar happens before your migraines, eating small amounts of food more frequently may help prevent your blood sugar from dropping.
Do Not Change Your Regular Sleep Pattern on the Weekend or During Vacation
Sleeping and waking at regular times may help prevent headaches.
Limit Stimuli During an Attack
  • Apply cold compresses to painful areas of your head.
  • Lie in a dark, quiet room.
  • Apply gentle pressure to your temples.

Managing Cluster Headaches

Find a doctor who is a headache specialist. Work with your doctor to create a plan to treat and prevent your headaches.
Do Not Drink Alcoholic Beverages
Even a small amount of alcohol can trigger a headache during a cluster period.
Learn Stress Management Techniques
Stress can contribute to a headache. A mental health professional can work with you to develop stress management skills and learn relaxation techniques.
For more information on reducing stress, click here.
Do Not Smoke
Tobacco use has been associated with cluster headaches.
For more information on quitting smoking, click here.
Do Not Overuse Pain Medication
Overuse of pain medications can make your headaches worse. Avoid excessive use of these medications.

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 saline nasal spray up to six times a day
  • Nasal irrigation—ask your doctor how to do this at home
Avoid Exposure to Anything That Triggers Allergy or Sinus Symptoms
Allergic reactions increase the amount of secretions in and swelling of the nasal passages. This can lead to sinusitis.
Seek Medical Treatment for Allergies or a Persistent Cold
Medical management of allergies and upper respiratory infections helps prevent sinusitis. If you are prone to sinus problems, ask your doctor about using a decongestant before air travel. A decongestant will help keep nasal passages open.
Wash Your Hands Frequently to Avoid Colds
Hand washing helps prevent colds and other infections passed from the hand to the nose, mouth, or eyes. Colds increase the amount of secretions in and swelling of the nasal passages, which can lead to sinusitis.
Avoid Alcoholic Drinks
Alcohol can cause swelling of nasal and sinus tissues.
Avoid Smoke
Do not smoke. Also, avoid second-hand smoke and polluted air.
For more information on quitting smoking, click here.
Do Not Overuse Pain Medication
Overuse of pain medications can make your headaches worse. Avoid excessive use of these medications.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if your headaches do not respond to lifestyle changes and prescribed medications.

References

Headache—frequently asked questions. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/education/Tools%5Ffor%5FSufferers/Headache%5F-%5FFrequently%5FAsked%5FQuestions. Accessed November18, 2013.

NINDS headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/headache.htm. Updated November 8, 2013. Accessed November 18, 2013.

Scher A, Stewart WF, et al. Major life changes before and after the onset of chronic daily headache: a population-based study. Cephalgia. 2008;28(8):868-876.

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