15 nondrug remedies for migraines

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Migraine headaches are a widespread problem, affecting 47 million Americans a year. Often the only remedy for this pain is to take pain killing drugs, often nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but also beta blockers and antidepressants.

However, if the drugs either aren’t working or you’d just like to explore other ways to relieve your pain, there are nondrug remedies that can help.

1) Feverfew

This herb has been used since ancient Greek physicians used it to reduce inflammation. It was originally used to reduce fevers, as the name suggests, but it isn’t really that good at it.

However, lately it’s been used to help with migraine pains. The plant can be taken in many different ways, from eating fresh leaves, tea or pills of the dried herb.

It contains a chemical called parthenolide, which is responsible for its ability to prevent migraines and reduce inflammation.

However, researchers still aren’t clear on what the chemical does or why. What is well understood is that feverfew does generally work.

Nonetheless, as with any supplement, it’s best to discuss it with a health care professional before you start taking them.

2) Butterbur

This herb is poisonous taken in any form other than the processed supplement. So, unlike feverfew, you have fewer choices about how you take butterbur.

You want to ensure that the supplement you take is labelled “PA-free” to ensure you are getting a version of the herb that is safe.

However, the herb’s abilities to help prevent migraines are equally impressive. Again, it’s not clear how the herb works, but the speculation is that it reduces swelling and inflammation.

3) Caffeine

You need to be careful with caffeine, since while a small amount can help, too much caffeine can trigger headaches, or create dependency, which can lead to rebound headaches when the caffeine wears off.

This dependency can develop from too much coffee, pop or even from headache medications that use caffeine. So while caffeine can be helpful for some people to relieve pain, be cautious with it.

4) Peppermint

Certain smells can trigger migraines. But certain smells, particularly peppermint, can also reduce pain.

This may not work for everyone, however, though there isn’t any risk in trying it. And if all the peppermint is able to do for you is mask unpleasant smells, it’s helpful.

5) Acupuncture

This is based on ancient Chinese concepts of medicine. The goal is to open and realign the flow of essential energy called qi.

This is done by inserting thin needles under the skin into “meridians” or channels in the body to improve the flow of energy.

While this may seem like a radical solution for some people, it is not necessary to completely alter your beliefs about medicine in order to gain benefit from this treatment.

A Cochrane review, which is an analysis and amalgamation of research, found that acupuncture was as helpful to prevent migraines as drug treatments. In addition, acupuncture has far fewer of the side effects that often come with medication.

6) Massage

It sounds like it’s barely worth mentioning, but just the more casual measure of rubbing your head—something you might be doing anyway—can help provide temporary pain relief.

More formal kinds of massage will also help, and some research has found that regular massages help prevent migraines.

What needs to be noted about this though is that it needs to be ongoing. You’ll experience relief or be able to manage your migraines better, but the massage needs to become a regular part of your regimen.

7) Aerobic exercise

Exercise is also something to be careful with. Regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, biking, or swimming, can reduce migraine intensity and frequency.

However, exercise can also be a trigger for a headache, and so caution is necessary. It depends on the person, but regular exercise improves quality of life and can also lessen both the frequency and severity of pain. If you know that exercise can be a trigger for you, ease into it.

Don’t go straight into intense exercise and make sure you warm up and cool down after. Also, make sure you keep yourself well hydrated, since dehydration can often cause headaches.

Obviously you need to be more careful about this than other people, but these are good measures to take for anyone getting exercise.

15 nondrug remedies for migraines

8) Relaxation

This kind of goes along with massage, but you can do this on your own at home or wherever. You can use deep breathing, music, or using relaxing mental imagery to help you unwind and help with headache pain.

There hasn’t been a great deal of research on this, but stress can often be a trigger for pain, and being more relaxed is never a bad thing.

9) Yoga

Yoga combines the relaxation benefits of massage and meditation, with the beneficial effects of regular exercise. The exercise combines different physical positions and postures with breathing exercises and meditation.

Again, there hasn’t been a great deal of research, but in a small study in Headache, patients who engaged in three months of yoga therapy and had less frequent attacks and less severity of pain.

Also, like massage, this is an approach that will need to be part of an ongoing system of management. It is unlikely to be helpful as a one off or short lived measure.

10) Temperature

One of the easiest and least risky therapies for headache is simply to apply heat or cold to the affected area.

Because this approach doesn’t have any side effects, it can be used by anyone including folks who may have been warned off of other measures, like pregnant women.

For other kinds of pain, heat is helpful, but for a migraine, cold is best. During a migraine, the lining of the brain gets irritated and inflamed. Cooling down the blood that flows through the temples can definitely help.

11) Ginger

While you may be more familiar with the use of ginger for stomach upset, it can also help to relieve pain. Ginger has some anti-inflammatory properties, which help it to calm pain in your head.

It can also help provide relief for migraine-induced nausea. Just be sure you’re getting the genuine article in an appropriate dose to help you. Ginger ale won’t be enough.

12) Biofeedback

This treatment uses electronic sensors to monitor bodily functions. The information is funneled back to the patient using sounds or computer images.

Through this information it is hoped that the patient will be able to control responses, including pain responses in the head.

Biofeedback has shown some effectiveness for controlling migraines. The treatment isn’t cheap, but over the long-term, biofeedback can be more cost effective than drug treatments.

13) Omega-3s

You’ve probably heard of these healthy fats for a wide variety of other ailments as well as general health. They have an anti-inflammatory effect, so they can help with headache pain.

However, they have so many other benefits, even if you find that they aren’t able to do much for your migraines, taking them is likely beneficial in any case.

You can get omega-3s through cold water fish, flax seeds and fish oil supplements.

14) Water

Dehydration is often a cause of plenty of headaches, so much so that sometimes drinking a few glasses when you feel a migraine coming on might serve to head it off so that you won’t have to suffer with it.

If you’re not a fan of plain water, there are many ways to spice it up so that you can get the H2O regardless. Just make sure to avoid caffeinated drinks, since caffeine dehydrates much quicker than the drink can rehydrate you.

15) Magnesium

This is an essential mineral in the body that is often overlooked for other minerals like potassium or iron. It plays a role in 300 different functions, but because of its background status in the public eye, it is often deficient in the developed world. People with migraines often have a magnesium deficiency.

Like all nutrients, you can get magnesium from your food, especially beans, whole grains and nuts. It is also possible to take a magnesium supplement in pill form.

Some individuals have a condition that makes it difficult for them to absorb the mineral, and for these individuals, supplementation can cause diarrhea.

However, while definitely unpleasant, this shouldn’t be dangerous and magnesium is safe in 200 mg doses.


One of the benefits of these approaches is that they can be easy to combine. In most cases, it is probably worthwhile to pursue different techniques at the same time. Easy enough to take an herbal supplement before you go for a massage.

However, especially when you’re actually taking something, whether an herbal supplement, a vitamin or a drug, make sure that it will be all right in combination with other drugs or supplements that you might be taking at the same time.

Further Reading

“Migraine Relief: 15 Natural Ways To Ease The Pain.” The Huffington Post. by Sarah Klein. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/natural-migraine-relief_n_1666726.html.

“13 Surprising Ways to Fight Headache Pain.” Health.com. by Karen Pallarito. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20538298,00.html.

“Feverfew.” Migraine.com. http://migraine.com/migraine-treatment/natural-remedies/feverfew.

“Find a Vitamin or Supplement: BUTTERBUR.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-649-BUTTERBUR.aspx?activeIngredientId=649&activeIngredientName=BUTTERBUR

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