9 Steps for Instant Relief from Migraines
If you suffer from chronic migraines, you will find a lot of advice for managing them over the long term.
But if you are in agony right now from that excruciating, pounding pain, all the long-term advice in the world isn’t going to help you to find the relief you desperately crave now.
As someone who has been battling migraines for a decade now, I know that despair all too well—those moments when you would do anything to get a bit of peace and just feel like a functioning human being again.
Thankfully over the years, I have learned a lot about managing migraines, not just in terms of prevention, but also in terms of acute treatment when it is needed most.
Is there a surefire, foolproof way to beat any migraine? If there is, I have yet to find it. But using the methods below, I am usually able to keep a migraine contained within a few hours of the day—or at least stop a moderate one from becoming severe. And sometimes when I am fast about it (and a little bit lucky), I can even get a migraine to go away inside an hour, occasionally half an hour.
That is as close to “instant relief” as you are going to get.
How To Get Instant Relief from Migraines, Step-by-Step
1. Take some painkillers.
First of all … yes, it may seem obvious, but it bears saying: take some medicine.
Some people resist painkillers during migraines. To some extent, that makes sense—you definitely do not want to overuse them and end up with rebound headaches.
But using them in moderated doses is perfectly fine if they help you out. They are your first line of defense. Quite often, a small dose of NSAIDs at the very first pangs of pain in your head can prevent a full-on attack—and may save you from having to take more medicine later.
Keep Reading: Best Headache Treatments without a Prescription
2. Drink some water and eat something nutritious if you are dehydrated.
Think your headache may be in response to losing too many fluids and electrolytes? Whatever else you do to treat your migraine is going to fail if you do not solve the underlying problem.
So drink some water or fruit or vegetable juice. You should also consider eating something. Fruits and vegetables are good choices for the same reason that juice works; they help to replenish the minerals your body needs to regulate glutamate levels. Taking a salt supplement can also help.
If you eat and re-hydrate quickly at the onset of a migraine, you may be able to cut off hours of suffering. Sometimes it may even be all you need to experience some immediate relief.
3. Use a cold pack.
Ice is amazing. Apply it directly to where you are experiencing your pain, and it will help to numb the nerves which are busy transmitting pain signals.
One thing I have discovered about this which surprised me is that the relief you get is not always temporary. If you only use the ice for a couple minutes and then remove it, the pain will probably come right back when your nerves thaw up. But if you are willing to use the ice for half an hour or more, you may actually find the migraine goes away. This is a wonderful technique which works well for me when other methods are failing.
I also suggest that instead of using ice, you use a cold pack. This method is less messy and takes less effort. The ice pack will still drip as it warms up though, so have a bowl handy to catch the water.
4. Drink some coffee.
If there is one method I have found which works wonders for bringing instant relief, it is drinking some coffee—or alternately, just taking a medication which includes caffeine (Midol, for example). In fact, sometimes I have noticed that caffeine is as effective or more effective than the Ibuprofen I typically take for my migraines.
Keep in mind that caffeine can disrupt your sleep for hours after you drink it, so this technique is best relied on earlier in the day. Not everyone reacts to caffeine in the same way, however, so it may still be a suitable option later in the day for you if caffeine does not usually keep your awake. Plus, pain can keep you awake too. You may as well be awake and not in pain rather than awake and in agony.
5. Take a nap.
Now, if you can get some sleep, that can be a very powerful way of overcoming a migraine.
It does not necessarily take a lot of sleep either. I sometimes can doze for about ten or fifteen minutes and will wake up to find the migraine is either fading or completely gone. So it is well worth the effort, even if you do not expect to be able to sleep well or for long.
Just how powerful is sleep for migraines? Before I started figuring out how to control my migraine pain, I actually had one continuous migraine that lasted for many months on end. There was no end in sight, no relief at all during the day. The first time I experienced a moment of relief was waking up in the middle of the night. For about sixty seconds, I had no pain. Those moments became more and more frequent at night as my condition started to improve.
Recommended Reading: 12 Scientifically-Backed Hacks for Ending Migraines
6. Sexual activity helps some people.
Can’t sleep? Another somewhat surprising option for immediate migraine relief is sexual activity, as demonstrated by this research.
It certainly isn’t easy to jump enthusiastically into sexual activity when you feel like curling into a ball and weeping with pain, but if you can find the willpower, it can pay off. Out of the patients who were surveyed in the study, 60% stated that they had improvements in their migraines during or after sexual activity. 70% of those 60% said they had “moderate to complete relief.”
A third of respondents did say that sexual activity made their migraines worse, however, so whether this will work for you or not is up in the air until you try it.
From my own experience, I can say that it can work extremely well if you are in that two-thirds who experience positive results. It has worked for me to clear up ultra-severe migraines that were not responding to any other method of treatment. Best of all, you can actually get significant relief within a matter of minutes.
Does that relief stick around? Sometimes, sometimes not. Often the migraine will not come back at the original intensity, or it will go away completely. Other times, it will come right back, but at least there is a bit of a break first.
7. Exercise may (or may not) help.
Exercise is another option for treating migraines. A long-term exercise program may be as effective as medication in controlling migraines.
Does exercising provide immediate acute migraine relief? As with sexual activity, it varies from person to person. Most people report that they experience no ill effects if they work out with a migraine, and some people do say that they experience some immediate relief.
If I work out with a migraine, my pain usually worsens. As far as I can tell, though, I am in the minority there. So give exercising a try, and if it works for you, then you have yet another option for naturally getting immediate migraine relief.
Keep Reading: Exertion Headache Prevention Tips
8. Get out of bright light.
Another thing which I often tend to forget helps a great deal is quite simple: just get out of bright environments.
This includes sunlight first and foremost if you have sun-triggered migraines. But it also seems to include rooms with bright indoor lighting as well.
Total darkness seems to provide some degree of immediate relief to many migraine sufferers. So head into your bedroom for a nap and close all the drapes. Another option which is arguably even better is to take a shower with all the lights off. Many bathrooms are windowless, so you can get total darkness even during the daytime. The warm water from the shower may help as well.
9. If you suspect tension is involved, consider a massage or some heat.
On that note, I have discussed ice somewhat extensively, but I have yet to talk about heat and migraines.
Heat is a somewhat tricky proposition. I have noticed with migraines that throb that heat can sometimes intensify the throbbing and make matters worse.
But in other cases, heat seems to actually have a soothing effect, maybe just because it is distracting my nerves.
Sometimes the situation is a little more complicated. Some people experience migraines and tension headaches at the same time.
Tension headaches do tend to respond very well to heat. As their name indicates, they are the result of tight muscles. Heat helps to relax your muscles, which in turn relieves the headache.
Why do migraines and tension headaches tend to occur together? Think how you feel when you have a migraine. When you’re in massive amounts of pain, the natural response is to tighten up your muscles. But that can lead straight to a tension headache. For whatever reason, the development of a tension headache also seems to exacerbate migraines.
So anything you can do to relieve one type of pain can often indirectly help you to relieve the other. Take steps to treat your tension headache and your migraine may also start to let up.
This is yet another reason heat can be helpful when treating migraines. Heat helps to relax your muscles, and that means that all of your pain can end up decreasing.
To that end, you can also try treating your tight muscles through other means such as massage therapy. If you have problems with joint alignment in your spine, you also can try seeing a chiropractor.
Even though you are here looking for acute relief, an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure. So while the treatment ideas above will hopefully bring you swift relief when you need it most, here are a few adjustments to make to your lifestyle to bring more lasting relief:
- If you can, identify the underlying cause of your migraines. For example, in my case, it was hormonal. It could also be nutritional or involve an imbalance in brain chemical production or something else altogether. It is tough to pin down what causes migraines for any one person, but if you can, you can start on a long-term treatment plan.
- Figure out what your triggers are. A trigger may not be the same as an underlying cause. For example, you could have hormonal migraines, but they might be triggered by seemingly unrelated things, like bright sunlight. Once you know what to avoid, you will experience fewer migraines. Keeping a journal can help you to do this.
- Exercise more. If you work out several times a week and you commit to that schedule over the long-term, you may find that your migraines are significantly less problematic. Remember, this can be as effective as prescription medication.
- Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of water. Make sure that you are staying hydrated every day, especially if you habitually forget to drink water. Eat regular nutritious meals each day.
- Get on a regular sleep schedule. There are some people who experience what they call “weekend headaches,” where they only get migraines on the weekends. This is the result of changing sleep schedules, which can be a trigger for migraines. Try and get up and go to sleep at the same time each day.
- Take an herbal supplement for migraines. An herbal supplement for migraines can help reduce your pain and restore balance in your body. If you find out your migraines are hormonal, you might want to take an herbal supplement for hormone balancing as well. Herbal supplements offer you a gentle, natural alternative to medications.
- De-stress. Anything you can do to relax more will help to prevent both migraines and tension headaches. For some people, exercising does the trick. But you can also try meditating, playing video games, reading a book, or doing anything else you enjoy.
- Know when to take a break. You may feel pressured to do all the same activities you would if you were not in desperate pain, but now and again it can really make a difference to know when to back off and just relax for half an hour. After a short break, you may be ready to come back strong and actually enjoy your favourite activities.
So now you know what to do the next time your head is killing you and you need some instant relief! You also have some idea where to begin when it comes to drafting up with a long-term treatment plan. Getting your migraines under control may seem like an impossible feat right now, but I’ve been there, and I am here to tell you that however hopeless it feels, relief is possible. Don’t give up!