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Tips for Keeping Your Head Together this Season
Say Good-Bye to Holiday Headaches

That dull ache in the back of your head may be a nagging sign of too much stress. How can you tame the tension and find relief? According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful:

  • Apply soothing oils: Rub peppermint oil or an ointment containing aromatic oils on your forehead.
  • Kick back and relax: Try relaxation techniques such as meditation to control the effects of stress and reduce headache frequency and severity.
  • Try magnesium: Supplementing with 365 mg may decrease tension headaches.
  • Have your spine "inspected": Find a stress-reduction program that includes group counseling, instruction in coping skills, relaxation training, and other helpful techniques.

About tension headache
A tension-type headache is common and typically experienced as a dull, non-throbbing pain in the back of the neck or in a “headband” distribution. It may be associated with tender nodules in the neck called trigger-points, or with tenderness in the muscles around the head.

What are the symptoms?
People with a headache may have symptoms including uncomfortable sensations described as pain, throbbing, aching, dullness, heaviness, and tightness in the head. People with a headache may also experience discomfort that is often worsened by movement or pressure and may be associated with irritability, problems sleeping, and fatigue.

Lifestyle changes that may be helpful
Tension-type headaches often occur more frequently and may become more severe during or following times of mental or emotional stress. Several controlled studies have found tension-type headache sufferers to report higher levels of stress, and to have significantly higher levels of depression or anxiety, significantly greater levels of suppressed anger, or significantly greater muscle tension than those without headaches. Minimizing stress and getting enough sleep and regular exercise are often recommended to people with tension-type headaches. However, no research has investigated the effectiveness of these lifestyle changes.

One controlled study that included patients with muscle-contraction headache as well as other types of headache, revealed that smokers had significantly more severe headache episodes than nonsmokers. Although other studies have not found an association between smoking and headaches, stopping smoking is always a good idea for many health reasons.

Vitamins that may be helpful
Magnesium levels tend to be low in people with tension headaches. In a preliminary trial, supplementation with 365 mg of magnesium per day for three months decreased the number of headache days by 70% in children with chronic tension-type headaches.

Herbs that may be helpful
A preliminary report suggested that peppermint oil has relaxing and pain relieving effects, and may be useful as a topical remedy for tension-type headache. In a double-blind study, spreading a 10% peppermint oil solution across the temples three times over a 30-minute period was significantly better than placebo and as effective as acetaminophen in reducing headache pain. Similar use of an ointment combining menthol and other oils related to peppermint oil was also as effective as pain relieving medication and superior to placebo in another double-blind study.


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