Headaches and Mind-Body Therapy

What causes headaches?

Many things can cause headaches. The most common types of headache are migraines and tension headaches. These can be caused by the following:

  • Stress
  • Certain foods and beverages
  • Sleep problems
  • Sinus and allergy problems
  • Muscle tension, which can be caused by jaw clenching and poor posture
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Certain medicines

Migraine headaches can run in families. This means that you are more likely to suffer from them if one of your family members also has frequent migraines.

How are headaches treated?

The most common treatments for headaches are rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. These include aspirin, acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol), ibuprofen (one brand name: Motrin) and naproxen (one brand name: Aleve). Keep in mind that children should not take aspirin. Aspirin can cause a serious illness called Reye's syndrome in children under 18 years of age.

If these common treatments don’t work, talk to your family doctor. He or she can prescribe medicine that might help relieve your headaches. Some people who suffer from very bad headaches need to have blood tests or X-rays to find out what is causing them.

Mind-body therapy may also help people who get headaches often.

What is mind-body therapy?

Mind-body therapy focuses on the connections between your mind, body and behaviors. Problems with any of these things can affect your health. Examples of mind-body therapy are meditation, muscle relaxation, hypnosis, biofeedback and a type of counseling called cognitive (say: kog-na-tiv) behavior therapy.

Biofeedback is a technique where you use your thoughts to control your body. Biofeedback can help you treat physical and mental health problems.

Cognitive behavior therapy is also called talk therapy. This kind of therapy helps you identify negative thoughts so you can stop them before they cause problems. Cognitive behavior therapy is often used to treat low self-esteem and depression, but it can also help ease stress in general.

Does mind-body therapy really work?

Yes. Studies show that mind-body therapy works just as well as medicine for certain kinds of headaches.

How can I learn to do mind-body therapies?

You can do certain types of mind-body therapy yourself:

  • Meditate by taking a few deep breaths, closing your eyes and focusing on a positive thought.
  • Relax your muscles by applying either heat or cold to the tense area. If heat works for you, try taking a hot shower or bath. Or try a heating pad (set on a low setting). If cold works for you, try a cold pack wrapped in a thin towel (to protect your skin).
  • Massage your temples and the muscles in your neck and shoulders. Massages can also help relax muscles.

You might need help from a professional for other types of mind-body therapy, such as hypnosis and biofeedback.

Talk to your doctor if you want to try mind-body therapy. He or she can recommend someone who specializes in this kind of therapy. Your doctor can also offer suggestions to help you cope with stress.

More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.


Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff.

Mind-Body Therapies for Headache by Victor Sierpina, M.D., John Astin, PhD, James Giordano, PhD (American Family Physician November 15, 2007, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20071115/1518.html)

Created: 09/09