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Headaches (cont.)

Prevention

You may be able to prevent headaches by changing your daily routine. Identify possible causes of your headaches using a headache diaryClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?).

  • Eat regularly. Do not skip meals. Choose nutritious foods. Do not fill up on salty foods or carbonated beverages.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Set a bedtime and time to get up, and stick to them, even on weekends. This will help your body get used to a regular sleep time. Avoid oversleeping.
  • Physical therapy may help you strengthen your neck muscles, improve your posture, and increase your mobility.
    • Exercise regularly. Walking, cycling, jogging, swimming, or even dancing or gardening are great ways to relieve stress. If you tend to hold tension in your neck and shoulders, walking may be especially helpful. The swinging motion of the arms seems to relax those muscles.
    • Practice a relaxation exercise once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes.
    • Try massage, which can reduce muscle tension, especially in your neck and shoulder muscles. Muscle tension can cause headaches or make them worse.
  • Practice good posture and body mechanics at home and at work:
    • Sit straight in your chair with your lower back supported. If you sit most of the day, take breaks once an hour to stretch your neck muscles. There are some specific exercises you can do during your breaks. For more information, see the topic Neck Problems and Injuries.
    • If you work at a computer, adjust your monitor so that the top of the screen is at eye level. Use a document holder to keep the copy at the same level as the screen.
    • If you frequently use the telephone, consider a headset or speakerphone. Do not cradle the handset between your shoulder and your ear.
  • Have frequent dental checkups and yearly eye examinations.

Headaches can often be prevented by avoiding things that may cause, or "trigger," the pain. Although these triggers may be different for different people, generally avoid:

  • Alcohol and caffeine (coffee, tea, or soda pop).
  • Sudden caffeine withdrawal.
  • Foods, such as very salty foods or foods that contain the preservative MSG.
  • Poor eating habits, including missing meals, extreme diets, and fasting.
  • Dehydration.
  • Changes in usual sleep patterns, not getting enough sleep, or oversleeping.
  • Stress, anxiety, or depression.
  • Medicines, such as heart medicines, blood pressure medicines, and hormones.
  • Poor posture and body mechanics.
  • Smoking cigarettes or cigars, or breathing secondhand smoke.
  • Glare from sunlight or artificial light.
  • Exposure to strong odors.
  • Strain in the muscles of the jaw from grinding or clenching teeth or chewing gum.
  • Herbal remedies, such as ginseng or St. John's wort.

To prevent a child's headache:

  • Make sure your child gets enough rest.
  • Offer frequent nutritious snacks and beverages during the day. Do not allow your child to fill up on salty foods or carbonated beverages.
  • Do not allow your child to skip meals.

Prevent head injuries to prevent headaches.

  • Wear your seat belt when in a motor vehicle. Use child car seats.
  • Do not use alcohol or other drugs before participating in sports or when operating a motor vehicle or other equipment.
  • Wear a helmet and other protective clothing whenever you are biking, motorcycling, skating, kayaking, horseback riding, or rock climbing.
  • Wear a hard hat if you work in an industrial area.
  • Do not dive into shallow or unfamiliar water. Prevent falls in your home by removing hazards that might cause a fall.
  • Do not keep firearms in your home. If you must keep firearms, lock them up and store them unloaded and uncocked. Lock ammunition in a separate area.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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