10 Home Remedies for Awful Migraine Headaches

I am a woman who's suffered from migraines since I was a kid, so I know what it's like to feel sick with the unbearable pain of a migraine. As I hate going to doctors, I treat my migraines at home based on what I've researched, experimented with, and tried. Of those remedies I tried, some gave me relief, others had no effect, while others actually made the painful headaches even more agonizing.

Here are 10 home remedies for migraine headaches, many of which have helped me quite a bit. Some treatments are herbal and natural, some are pharmaceutical products you can get over the counter.

However, of course I have to warn you not to take what I write here as medical advice. I'm a migraine sufferer, not a doctor. Always talk to your healthcare practitioner before trying to use any treatment at home for migraines on yourself, another adult, or most especially a child who has a migraine or other type of severe headache. And use sense even about taking the advice of a doctor - I speak from personal experience here, as when I was a kid, my mother was told by my pediatrician to give me codeine (a narcotic) every day to prevent headache. Medical opinion changes over time, so use care when taking any advice, professional or not. Just some personal thoughts stuck in here. So okay, on to my favorite remedies...

Migraine Headaches Can Be Severely Painful.  Photo Courtesy of miss_rogue  under Creative Commons Attribution License
Migraine Headaches Can Be Severely Painful. Photo Courtesy of miss_rogue under Creative Commons Attribution License | Source

#1 Home Remedy for Migraine Headaches - NSAIDS

Okay, it's obvious, but it should be covered. They're not particularly natural or non-invasive, but NSAIDS, or over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can be effective. These painkillers can help a migraine most when taken as soon as the pain from a migraine begins, or when the symptoms of a classic migraine begin. Take only the dosage advised on the bottle or by a health care practitioner. Doctors also sometimes prescribe prescription medications for migraines, such as ergotamines or triptans.

Pregnant women should not take NSAIDS - I learned this to my dismay when I was pregnant. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally the only pain medication advised by doctors during pregnancy. Check with your Ob/Gyn to be sure.

My personal experience: During pregnancy, taking tylenol seemed to be enough to get rid of my migraines, even though acetaminophen doesn't work when I'm not pregnant. Otherwise, I generally take ibuprofen - in the smallest possible dose.

Do You Suffer From Migraine Headaches?

Which migraine headache home remedy has helped you the most?

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#2 Home Remedy for Migraines - Caffeine

Caffeine may be a migraine trigger - but in some cases, it might help a migraine. (Caffeine is one ingredient in the migraine medication, Excedrin Migraine).

Caffeine in the form of coffee may provide temporary pain relief. Take the coffee black, with no sugar or cream, as both might be migraine food triggers.

My personal experience: Tea may also work for you - it never has for me, though. Nor has chocolate or Coca-Cola, two other potential food triggers for migraines. Only black coffee has helped me, personally.

#3 Application of Cold to the Head

Although not well understood, the cause of migraine pain seems to be inflammation in the head that causes blood vessels there to swell. Reducing blood volume to the head may help the pain of a migraine. A cold shower or - my preference - an ice pack to the head, neck, face and shoulders may help accomplish this.

Some ideas for an ice pack at home may be a:

  • gel pack kept in the freezer, surrounded by cloth ( I use inexpensive and durable ice packs for my migraines made by Accurate Manufacturing)
  • wet towel put in the freezer for 15 minutes
  • frozen package of peas or corn (discard this afterward)

Hot/Cold Therapy for Migraines

Which hot/cold home treatment has helped get rid of your migraines?

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#4 - Application of Heat May Help a Migraine

Don't apply heat to the head! At least, in my experience, that only hurts a migraine headache and makes the pain much worse. For years, I applied heat to my head, neck and shoulders thinking it should help, but the throbbing only intensified. Edit:  Although this is my personal experience, it's not the experience of everyone with migraine.  I have a relative whose migraines worsen with cold applied to the head.  The lesson here is to experiment safely and see what works for you.

Instead of heat applied to the head, try taking a hot bath, as warm as you can comfortably tolerate it.  Immerse your hands up to the elbows in the warm water. Bathe for at least 20 minutes. Don't lie down and soak or immerse your head. Occasionally you can splash cold water on your face or even dab your face with an ice pack.

Caution: Hot baths are not necessarily safe for everybody and all medical conditions. Check with your physician if in doubt.

#5 Migraine Home Remedy - Keep the Head Elevated

A surprising home "cure" to some of the pain of a migraine can be to keep the head elevated.

Not many realize this, but think about it: For the same reason that a hot compress can hurt and a cold one can help - that is, they affect how the blood flows to and from the head - keeping the head elevated might help a migraine and lying down in a horizontal position, where the head is at a level with the body, might hurt a migraine.

My personal experience: When I have a migraine, I sit in a recliner or on a chair. In bed, I prop up a lot of pillows behind me so I'm not lying prone. My head throbs when my head is at the same level as my body, so I avoid that and always make sure I'm as upright as I can comfortably be.

#6 Home Treatment for Migraine - Mild Exercise

Mild exercise is one of the lesser-known alleviatives for migraine headaches. Even pregnant women with migraines may be able to do mild exercise that focuses on getting the blood to circulate in the lower body. Walking or just pumping the legs while sitting might help. Unless told otherwise by a medical professional, anyone with a migraine should avoid exercise that is strenuous or gets blood flowing toward the head.

My personal experience: One day, I was at my grandmother's home and began to feel the pain of a migraine headache when I had no access to medications. I got on my grandfather's upright stationary bike and began to gently pedal. This worked my lower limbs while keeping my upper limbs relatively immobile. Within about ten minutes, I began to feel better, and the headache never developed.

#7 Migraine Home Treatment - Feverfew

According to the Natural Health Guide to Headache Relief (see References), feverfew is an effective home remedy for migraine headaches. Taken over the course of a few months, feverfew might even help prevent migraine.

Feverfew is not advised for people on anticoagulant medications, pregnant women or for anybody allergic to ragweed. Contact a medical professional before trying feverfew for migraine headaches.

My personal experience: I have never tried feverfew as a migraine preventative. I believe I tried it once as a treatment for acute migraine and it did not help me at all.

#8 - Ginger Root Home Treatment for Migraine Headaches

Ginger root is a migraine herbal remedy that may help a headache associated with nausea. It helps me a lot, personally. I usually take a few slices of fresh ginger or chunks of dried ginger and simmer them for ten to twenty minutes in a teapot. One or two cups really helps ease the "sick" feeling for me. The sooner I take it, the more it tends to help me.

It can also be taken in extract form or even as powdered ginger if diluted with plenty of water - the recipe can be found in the Natural Health Guide to Headache Relief (see References.) I am guessing the capsule form of ginger root would also work.

If you're pregnant, ask your doctor before using ginger at all.

#9 Home Remedy for Migraines - Rest and Retreat

Rest is important to help get rid of a migraine. Quit working and go rest. That means alone, or someplace peaceful. Ideally, try to fall asleep.

Where and how you rest depends on the way you experience migraines. Some people tend to be light-sensitive when they have migraines. They feel best when holed up in a room with the shades drawn and the lights out. Others tend to be sensitive to sound. Go where there is the least of what aggravates you.

My personal experience: Sometimes migraines can be "slept off." When I have a migraine, I couldn't care less if the room I was in was dark or light - but if the television is on and the volume set to any noise at all, I flinch. However, flickering light bothers me, too - I can't seem to stand looking at fluorescent lighting, the computer, television or movies, either.

#10 - Eliminate Trigger Foods

I'm not sure, but I think I should have made this one number 1! There is a lot of information out there about how foods can cause migraine headaches in some people. Basically the standard advice boils down to the same basic foods to avoid:

  • red wine
  • hot dogs
  • bacon
  • sausage
  • peanuts
  • aged cheese
  • milk
  • yogurt
  • soy
  • aspartame
  • fava beans
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)

Food triggers do not necessarily cause migraines each time you eat them. The time delay before the onset of migraine might be minutes or hours, or even 24 hours.

My personal experience: I get food-related migraines from foods not only on this list (especially those with free glutamic acid), but from food I eat that bring my blood sugar up too high, like bananas. (I had pre-diabetic blood sugars that, once controlled, reduced the number of my headaches impressively. No more taking after-meal naps and waking up with pounding migraines - yay!) I figured out many of my food intolerances with elimination diets and a low-carb diet.

Have Your Migraines Been Diagnosed by a Medical Doctor?

Many headache sufferers assume their headaches are migraines simply because they are very painful. Have your migraines been diagnosed by a medical professional?

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Have You Tried the Herbal Remedy, Feverfew?

Has feverfew helped your migraine headaches?

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What Are Migraine Headaches, Anyway?

Some facts about migraines:

  • Migraine headaches are a specific type of vascular headache in the same class as cluster headaches.
  • They involve the constriction of blood vessels in the head.
  • They can be severely painful or mild, and last for a few hours or days at a time.
  • Migraines afflict women more than men.
  • They may occur on either side of the head or on both sides of the head.
  • Symptoms: Aside from a throbbing pain in the head, face, neck and/or shoulders, they may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting and other symptoms such as coldness of the hands and the face getting hot.

My personal experience: My migraines tend to alternate sides of the head - first they occur on the right side; then they move to the left side, or vice versa.

Do All Migraines Come With an Aura?

Common migraines are known as migraine without aura. Only classic migraines, also called migraine with aura, are announced by an "aura" that can occur up to a half hour before the migraine pain starts. The aura may manifest as

  • visual disturbances
  • dizziness
  • feeling mentally fuzzy
  • numbness.

Start using home remedies and treatments as soon as the aura occurs.  The earlier a migraine treatment occurs, the more effective it is likely to be.

References

Migraine, WomensHealth.gov

Migraine During Pregnancy, American Pregnancy Association

Natural Health Guide to Headache Relief by Paula Maas & Deborah Mitchell

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Please Share What Home Treatment Helps or Hurts Your Migraines 8 comments

Lynn 5 years ago

I run a fairly hot bath in a dark bathroom and lie out flat in the bath with my head submerged letting the water even over my eyes, just leaving my nose out to breath. This really helps. I have even had to come home from work to do this and been able to return within a couple of hours. The pain from my headache comes on slow but at its peak makes me pace and I cant function or sit still until its relieved. After this treatment I feel fuzzy and a bit groggy but able to function again.


Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest, U.S.A. Author

Hi Lynn,

It's so interesting, how different people are. I was just talking to somebody who said that her migraines are helped by applying heat to her head. Cold makes them worse. It sounds like yours are like that. Mine get much worse with heat above the neck, so I take a hot bath and at the same time apply an ice pack that I got off of Amazon.com that wraps around the neck and is held by velcro.

My migraines are also connected somehow to shoulder tension - a physical therapist told me at one point that they were related to a nerve being pinched in my neck. Recently I've begun to relieve tension in the shoulders when the migraines hit, and that makes them much less severe.


Anynomus 5 years ago

Hello my mum has migraines sometimes and today she has one right now actually and i dont no how to help her thes things didnt help her at all so i need more like natural ideas something you can find at home


Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest, U.S.A. Author

Anonymous,

I'm so sorry I didn't get your comment until now. Is she feeling better? These things can last for days if untreated!

For what it's worth, I recently learned that most of my migraines were being triggered by free glutamates, which are in LOTS of the foods we eat, not just MSG. For these food-triggered headaches, taking ibuprofen and staying away from the specific triggers do the trick. From almost daily migraines for the last year or so, I'm down to two or three per month, and only one of those is severe and hard to treat, and that's not food-related - it's hormonal.

Of course, I don't know the cause of your mom's migraines. But since I found the "magic trick" to eliminating my migraines, I've become embarrassingly evangelical and hopeful that a lot of other people could be helped if they could figure out the triggers. I am starting to think many more people are affected by dietary triggers than is commonly believed - even people who've removed all the official suspected triggers that you see on health sites. Like me, I suspect they've probably already tried to remove various foods from their diets, to no or little effect.

You know, I'd done so many elimination diets already, I would NEVER have thought diet could be such a comprehensive cause of my headaches. And I would NEVER have dreamed the cause was a bunch of unrelated foods, preservatives, and additives, many of them foods I thought were healthful.

What's weird is that a lot of these foods ARE healthful. Many are organic and natural and have been eaten for centuries, universally in all cultures - like stocks and fermented foods. The paradigm shift for me is that they usually are good for folks, but that because of my diet over the years, I've grown oversensitive to what would normally be perfectly tolerable and healthful. It's my hope that I can add these foods back on eventually, and I do seem to be getting less sensitive to some.

So while I'm no doctor, I'd advise anyone who gets chronic migraine to first see a doctor to eliminate other things, then go on an elimination diet if there is no other consistent explanation.

Although it seems restrictive, I eat a very rich and varied diet. The foods I can eat are simple foods that haven't been processed very much:

Single ingredient spices

Canning salt (I use as table salt)

Bread and other baked goods I make myself with Hodgson Mill Naturally White Flour (which has no barley malt) or Bob's Red Mill white flour with no added ingredients

Baking soda

Homemade taco meat or spiced meats (like curry, but without the coconut milk (most coconut milk has added sulfites)

Rice, white and brown

Rice noodles

Organically grown potatoes

Roast chicken and turkey I season myself, where no salt solution or flavorings have been added in the processing - Foster Farms is a good brand for me.

Homemade cranberry jelly or preserves made WITHOUT pectin.

Food fried in rendered tallow or lard (but not from bacon)

Kerrygold butter (with no additives) or home-rendered schmaltz for flavoring

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Frozen fruits and vegetables (with caution, making sure there are no added ingredients)

Organic beans from cans with just "sea salt", water and beans as ingredients, well rinsed

Home-cooked beans

Blackstrap molasses

Cane sugar

Eggs, plain, unfancy - not the omega-3-enriched eggs.

Honey

100% maple syrup

salmon

Nut butters except peanut

Unflavored rice cakes

Arrowroot powder

The foods I try to avoid are:

MSG

All purpose flour (which has malted barley flour, a no-no)

Most food I don't make myrself, including ALL restaurant food (including salads and sushi), all boxed and frozen meals, all prepared sauces (no matter how simple, including ketchup), all pickled foods, all breads and crackers that I don't bake myself, snack chips I don't make myself, etc.

All food with ingredients listed as "natural flavorings" or "spices."

All preservatives (yes, all, and yikes, that's hard to do, but headaches are harder...!).

All additives except plain table salt (including sea salt, hydrolized proteins, starches, stabilizers, pectin, carageenan, soy lecithin, milk powder, food colorings, enzymes, etc - all those "extras" you see on the labels)

Beet sugar (which is probably in anything labeled "sugar" without the "cane sugar")

Brown rice syrup

Barley malt syrup

Cornstarch and most other prepared starches

Baking powder

Fat free or lowfat milk

Ultra-pasteurized milk (regular pasteurized is fine)

Milk heated for a long time or at high temperatures

Aged cheeses, including (sometimes) mozzarella

All fermented foods, including soy sauce, tobasco sauce, fermented black beans used in Chinese cooking, sauerkraut (even the natural "hippie" stuff), coleslaw after the second day

All soy foods, including tofu, edamame, tempeh

All foods with nitrates or nitrites, even natural ones using celery seed powder (pepperoni, sandwich meats, bacon, ham, hot dogs, etc.)

Onion and garlic and asafoetida (I actually use these sparingly, but during the elimination diet, I eliminated these completely. I haven't figured out whether I react to them or not.)

Prepared spice mixes

Peanuts

Tomatoes, even fresh, except in VERY small quantities

Mushrooms, even fresh, except in VERY small quantities

Meat stock (like beef or chicken or turkey or duck) whether homemade or premade, that has been cooked longer than about 3 hours.

banana

avocado

chocolate

Dried fruit

Leftovers of meals with meat after the second day (unless frozen by me)

Meats marinated for a long time

Meats that have been tenderized, such as with pineapple

Meats that have been cooked a long time


Moon Daisy profile image

Moon Daisy 5 years ago from London

A great hub for migraine sufferers. I also find ginger useful for that sick, unsettled feeling I sometimes get with a migraine. I also love ginger, so this is a pleasure for me to have anyway!

Amongst the other remedies you've talked about, mild exercise, like going for a long walk, also helps sometimes. And often I have gone to sleep after a few days of having a migraine and then woken up cured. (So either sleep helps, or it would have gone then anyway!)

I do rather like the idea that caffeine helps. I will try drinking black coffee next time. That's another one of my pleasures, but I don't think of having it with a migraine as it's something I've always been told to avoid. Still, I'm happy to give it a go!

P.S. I also like the suggestion from Lynn about lying in a fairly hot bath in a darkened room. I don't like taking tablets, so it's really great to have all of these new things to try. Migraines are such a pain, thanks for all the suggestions.


Moon Willow Lake profile image

Moon Willow Lake 5 years ago

Thank-you for all of the information. My significant other suffers from migraines, and I will make him aware of this article to see if any of these ideas help him out.


anonymous 4 years ago

I was diagnosed with migraines only a month ago although i have been getting them for a few years now. Normally with a migrain i would just lay down and go to sleep, but the last time i did that i woke up blinde in one eye, and thats really not good for a single mother with no family around to help. I had no idea that migraines could do that until i went to the hospital. I know that mostly my migraines are caused by a lack of sleep ( i didnt know that could be a cause either until the doctor mentioned it). I have tried so many things to try to get rid of a migrain, or at least relieve it a little. I'm glad i found this, there are a couple of things i havent tried. I need to ask if anyone else gets them from lask of sleep and if so what to do to relieve other than going to sleep because obviously that isnt always an option.


Vampsdes profile image

Vampsdes 4 years ago from Missouri, US

Some excellent information. I fully believe in trying natural remedies when I'm able to! I will have to try feverfew the next time I get one! I linked to this hub as well, I hope you don't mind! Thanks!

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