9 Alternative Migraine Treatments

Home Remedies That Are Backed by Research to Offer Some Relief

Living with migraines can be difficult, especially if you don’t respond well to medication or are having trouble getting the care you need. That might leave you looking for alternative migraine treatment options.

If you have consistent migraines, work with your healthcare provider to identify your migraine triggers and find a long-term treatment plan. It's also important to be able to find relief from migraine symptoms at home in a pinch.

Here’s what you should know about nine home remedies for migraines and what the research shows about whether they work. 

Woman experience a migraine on the counch


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Ice Caps (“Migraine Hats”)

Cold compresses have been used to treat headaches for more than 100 years. Ice caps, which are sometimes known as migraine hats, build on this idea. These are often gel cooling caps that are worn snugly on the head.

Research suggests these cooling caps can offer some relief. A small 2006 study found that people who wore the caps for 25 minutes during a migraine experienced a reduction in pain.

Another study found that applying a cold compress to the carotid arteries in the neck (major blood vessels supplying blood to the head) at the onset of a migraine can reduce pain by roughly 30%.

Massage

Most people enjoy getting a massage, and people who struggle with migraines might have a particularly good reason to indulge in one. A recent review of several studies concluded that massage significantly reduced migraine intensity and frequency compared to a control group of migraine patients who didn't regular massages.

Migraines and sleep issues are closely intertwined. One study cited in the review showed that migraine patients who had a weekly massage both slept better and had fewer migraines, suggesting that massage may have dual benefits.

Acupuncture

Most people with migraines would love to reduce the number of migraines they experience, and acupuncture might be beneficial in that regard. Multiple studies have shown that acupuncture can help prevent migraines. One randomized, controlled trial found that migraine patients who received 20 acupunture treatments over four weeks experienced fewer migraine days for the next 12 weeks.

Another meta-analysis found acupuncture to be as effective at reducing the number of migraine days as some prescription medications. In some cases, acupuncture was also shown to be effective at shortening the duration of migraines. However, more research is needed to confirm the results. It's important to note that you should never stop taking prescribed medication unless you’ve talked to your healthcare provider.

Cannabis

Research on cannabis is limited, but the studies that have been done show that cannabis could be a promising alternative treatment for migraine. One study found that smoking cannabis reduced self-reported headache and migraine severity by 50%. However, the study also showed that the effectiveness of cannabis for treating migraines seems to decline over time.

Another scientific review found that medical cannabis can reduce the duration and frequency of migraines. If you’re considering using cannabis to treat your migraines, speak with your healthcare provider about whether it may benefit you and be sure to consider any legal implications first. 

Weight Loss

There's some evidence that carrying extra weight may increase the risk of getting migraines. Extra weight may also increase the frequency and duration of migraines in people who already experience them. But losing weight seems to help reverse this effect.

A recent meta-analysis found that obese patients who lose weight experience a significant reduction in migraine frequency. And when migraines occur after weight loss, the attacks are often less severe and shorter.

In another study, patients who had bariatric surgery (gastric bypass and other weight-loss surgeries) reported experiencing about 50% fewer migraine days six months after the procedure. More research is needed to better understand the possible link between obesity and migraines and to determine how much weight loss makes a difference for people with migraines. 

Fatty Fish

Getting more healthy fats from fish like salmon could help prevent migraines. One study found that eating a diet rich in fatty fish but with limited vegetable oils reduced the total number of migraine hours by 30%–40% over 16 weeks. The fish-rich diet also reduced the severity of headaches and the overall frequency compared to a control group.

The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce the inflammation in the brain that can lead to migraines. More research is needed to determine the ideal dose of omega-3s to deliver this benefit.

Essential Oils

Some people have found that essential oils can offer some relief from migraine symptoms in the moment. One study found that applying peppermint oil to the nose resulted in a 40% reduction in headache intensity.

Sniffing lavender oil for 15 minutes has also been shown to reduce migraine pain and duration. Many people also find relief using a migraine stick, a roll-on aromatherapy treatment that contains essential oils meant to be applied to the wrists and neck.

Magnesium

Research suggests there is a link between low magnesium levels and migraines. In fact, some experts estimate that up to half of people with migraines have low levels of magnesium. Studies have also shown that taking magnesium supplements can reduce the number of headache days that people with migraine have.

Ginger

Ginger has many great health benefits, and one is that this warming spice may help interrupt migraines. One study found that when patients were given ginger powder at the onset of a migraine, their migraines were shorter and less severe, comparable to results of a group. More research is needed to confirm these results and determine the appropriate dose.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

Alternative migraine treatment options such as those discussed here are generally considered to be safe. However, even innocuous substances and supplements can interact with prescriptions. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about any treatments that you are considering incorporating into your routine. You should also talk to your healthcare provider anytime you experience changes in your migraine symptoms, such as experiencing more frequent headache days. 

Summary

There are a number of natural treatments and lifestyle adjustments that have been shown to be effective at reducing the frequency, duration, and severity of migraines. Many of these options have little to no side effects and are generally considered safe. However, you should always talk with your healthcare provider before trying a new treatment approach.

A Word From Verywell

Migraines can interrupt your life and leave you looking for any source of relief, which may lead you to alternative treatments. There are many natural treatments backed by science that can supplement traditional medical treatments for migraines. Have an open line of communication with your neurologist or other healthcare provider to help discover which natural treatment options might be a good fit for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long can migraines last?

    The symptoms of migraine usually last from four to 72 hours. Taking migraine medication at the first sign of symptoms can help reduce the duration.

  • How does Botox help migraines?

    Botox (botulinum toxin) is approved for people who have 15 or more migraine days each month. It’s believed to work by blocking pain signals in the nerves involved in migraines.

  • What triggers migraines?

    Migraines can be triggered by many factors, including foods, weather changes, and a person's menstrual cycle. Learn more about the causes of migraines here.

  • Why do migraines make you throw up?

    Doctors are still working to understand the link between migraines and nausea, but it likely has to do with the brain-gut connection.

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16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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