Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Lifestyle Tips to Combat the Strain of Headache Pain

Shepherd Pain Institute nurse offers insight on lifestyle changes you can make to manage headache frequency and pain.

By Monique Gaillard, RN, CRRN
Shepherd Pain Institute

Headaches can be described as a throbbing, pounding, burning, even gripping pain. At the very least, they are always bothersome and inconvenient.

There are many different types of headaches.

  • The most common type is the tension headache, which is an aching, pressure-like feeling generally on both sides of the head or the nape of the neck. The exact cause is uncertain, but high stress levels can contribute to the onset of tension headaches.
  • Another type of headache is known as the cluster headache, which is a very painful sensation focal to one side. It is excruciating pain, generally lasting from 15 minutes to three hours.
  • Sinus headaches have symptoms that include sinus pressure, nasal congestion and watery eyes. Often, sinus headaches are accompanied by an infection with green or yellow nasal drainage.
  • Migraine headaches can cause pain for hours to days and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sound and light sensitivity. This type of headache may call for a combination strategy, including medicine, self-help remedies such as natural herbs and supplements, and lifestyle changes to manage migraine pain.

A variety of factors can trigger headaches. These include weather, certain foods, alcohol consumption, smoking cigarettes, stress, poor diet resulting in a lack of nutrients, insufficient levels of minerals and/or electrolytes, inactivity leading to poor metabolism and lack of energy, just to name a few.

Lifestyle changes can help manage headache frequency and pain. Recommendations include:

  • Regular exercise to promote good blood flow and cardiac function;
  • Balanced diet to maintain homeostasis;
  • Good sleep hygiene to promote restful sleep;
  • Taking supplements, such as magnesium, ginger, butterbur and feverfew, that may help reduce headache frequency and pain;
  • Stress management techniques, such as periodic massage therapy to release toxins from the body and promote muscle tension release;
  • Daily meditation and biofeedback breathing techniques to promote relaxation;
  • Smoking cessation in consultation with a physician;
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to rare to moderate use;
  • Starting your day 15 to 30 minutes earlier, allowing time to mentally prepare for the day instead of hitting the floor running;
  • Keeping a headache diary to help better manage and possibly reduce the occurrence of headaches by helping to identify triggers, as well as any discoverable patterns and frequency.

Two notes on taking supplements:

  • Magnesium is a supplement known to possibly help regulate levels of the brain chemical serotonin and replenish the body’s natural supply of magnesium, which can be deficient due to poor absorption from one’s diet Topical creams are available to promote better magnesium absorption, resulting in maximum benefits.
  • Articles, such as one listed on, cite ginger as a natural home remedy that can provide instant headache relief. The ginger root is known to block prostaglandins, stimulate muscle contractions and control inflammation.

If you are like many people who suffer from headaches, you know how unpleasant this pain can be. Lifestyle adjustments just might be the change needed to make a big difference in your quality of life.

More information on the Shepherd Pain Institute is available here.

MONIQUE GAILLARD, RN, CRRN, is a nurse in the Shepherd Pain Institute. She has been a nurse for more than 19 years, working in cardiac care, medical surgical care, telemetry, geriatrics and, for the past eight years, pain management. She says, “Having the opportunity to work with this unique patient population with many rare disorders, it is evident to me that pain can be a very debilitating experience, which involves many dynamics that require a collaborative approach to management.”

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.