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Courtesy of The Cleveland Clinic Information Center

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Relaxation to music

Relaxation exercises can be combined with your favorite music in the background. Select the type of music that lifts your mood or that you find soothing or calming. Some people find it easier to relax while listening to specially designed relaxation audio tapes, which provide music and relaxation instructions. Ask your health care provider about the availability of these tapes or contact one of the resources listed in the box below.

Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy gives you insight into sources of your stress and other triggers and the development of headache. Common sources of stress in children and adolescents include:

Cognitive therapy involves three main steps. In the first step, counselors help patients recognize any negative thoughts associated with the stressors. Examples of negative thoughts could include: "That rotten teacher made the exam too hard," or "My headache is never going to go away."

The second step involves gaining insight into the negative thoughts and challenging the belief about the thought. For instance, the counselor will help patients realize that all past headaches have gone away so the next one will go away too.

The third and final step is to substitute positive thoughts for the negative ones and/or to teach patients to distract themselves so that they think about more pleasant thoughts. An example of a self-confidence-building statement might be, "I’ve had this type of headache before and I know how to handle it. I will beat this headache." Cognitive therapy teaches patients how to maintain a positive mood.

Beyond stress and relaxation strategies:
Alternative approaches for managing headaches

The remainder of this document focuses briefly on other headache management and pain reduction approaches. With the exception of physical therapy, many of the approaches discussed below represent nontraditional therapies being used to manage head pain in the United States. 

It’s important to note that some of the therapies mentioned are not completely harmless -- especially in the hands of unqualified practitioners. Also, it’s important to know that many therapies require multiple sessions and may take longer to work than traditional drug-based therapy.

Because some of these approaches are largely unproven, it’s important to find a trustworthy, certified, practitioner. Since most physicians today are open to consideration of alternative treatments, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about referring you to a qualified alternative health practitioner. In fact, ask your doctor to help coordinate your program of care.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy is a medical discipline that deals with the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves of the body. Physical therapy can be very helpful for headaches that originate in the muscles or joints of the neck (also called cervicogenic headaches). Patients who have migraines or tension-type headaches may have their headache pain brought on by neck strain and therefore may benefit from physical therapy.

Massage therapy

Massage has become a popular approach for relieving chronic pain, easing muscle tension, and for promoting relaxation. People with headaches triggered by muscle tension, poor posture, or emotional stress or anxiety might benefit from massage therapy.


Hypnosis uses a blend of relaxation, imagery, and the power of suggestion to achieve a heightened sense of relaxation. Headache relief is achieved through deep relaxation and posthypnotic suggestion.

© Copyright 1995-2005 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
Printed with Permission.

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