Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(10):1523-1524

See related article on mind-body therapy.

What causes headaches?

Many things can cause headaches. The most common types of headache are migraines and tension headaches. These can be caused by stress, certain foods and drinks, sleep problems, sinus and allergy problems, muscle tension, and mood problems. People with relatives who get migraine headaches are more likely to get them as well.

How are headaches treated?

The simplest treatments are rest, aspirin, acetaminophen (one brand: Tylenol), ibuprofen (one brand: Motrin), and naproxen (one brand: Aleve). If these treatments don't work, talk to your doctor about your headaches. He or she can prescribe medicine that might help. Some people with very bad headaches need to have blood tests or x-rays to find out what is causing them. Mind-body therapy may help people who get headaches often.

What is mind-body therapy?

Mind-body therapy focuses on the connections among your mind, body, and behaviors. Problems with any of these things can affect your health.

Examples of mind-body therapies are meditation, muscle relaxation, hypnosis, biofeedback, and a type of counseling called cognitive behavior therapy.

Does mind-body therapy really work?

Studies have shown that mind-body therapy works just as well as medicine for certain kinds of headaches.

How can I learn to do mind-body therapies?

You can do some mind-body therapies yourself. For others, such as hypnosis and biofeedback, you might need help from someone trained to do them.

Talk to your doctor if you want to try mind-body therapy. He or she can help you find the best way for you to cope with stress. Your doctor can also recommend someone who specializes in mind-body therapy.

Where can I get more information?

The following books can teach you how to use mind-body therapy:

The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, 5th edition. By Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay. Oakland, Calif.: New Harbinger Publications, 2000.

The Wellness Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Maintaining Health and Treating Stress-Related Illness. By Herbert Benson and Eileen M. Stuart. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. By Jon Kabat-Zinn. New York, N.Y.: Hyperion, 2005.

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