Treatments for Headaches

Taking daily preventive measures is a practical approach to treating headaches. You may avoid known triggers or make lifestyle changes like avoiding caffeine. Yet, caution is wise. Overuse of short-term relief medicine (ibuprofen or Tylenol®) increases risks for a stroke or brain scarring, among other medical conditions. Seeing a doctor who specializes in headache causes turns the focus to long-term solutions.

Your treatment plan depends on your medical history with headaches and the type of headache you have (cluster, tension or migraine). Your headache specialist may prescribe medicine or suggest over-the-counter medicine to reduce the onset of symptoms or stop a headache in progress. Let us improve your headaches with our treatment options below.

Psychological Counseling and Treatment

Evaluation of opportunities for psychological counseling and treatment is a vital step when developing a treatment plan for headache and migraine management. This is an important step that we take with every patient of the Headache Center. This is because we know that if we let stress or other psychological disorders, which are common among the headache and migraine population, such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder and bipolar disorder, go untreated, then the medications that are available for treatment will likely be ineffective. Our program has a dedicated pain psychologist, Grant Heller, PhD, who sees all patients for their initial consult, and then for follow-up if deemed appropriate for the following services: 

  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive Behavioral Training
  • Development of Coping Skills
  • Relaxation Training
  • Therapy Sessions

Medication Treatment

There are two groups of medications that are highly important to discuss when developing a medication treatment plan. These are called preventive and acute medications. 

A preventive medication is intended to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of the headache you experience over a long period of time. The average trial period for a preventive medication is three to six months to successfully determine the effectiveness of the medication. When preventive medications are successful, they also improve your body’s response to acute medications. A preventive medication is given in the absence of a headache and should be taken regularly as prescribed by your physician.   

Acute medications are intended to be used if your headache has lasted for at least four hours or at the first sign you know it will be a migraine. It is to be taken on an as-needed basis and only as prescribed by your physician to avoid developing medication overuse headache. 

There are additional rescue therapies that are potentially available within the Headache Center, if deemed appropriate by the provider. Rescue therapies are intended to be used as a last resort. It is important to focus on any opportunities for lifestyle modifications and psychological treatment first. If we have made the appropriate changes and completed the appropriate treatment, and our preventive and acute medications are still ineffective, then it might be time to discuss the possibility of rescue therapy. Rescue medications are intended to break up the acute pain cycle you are in to allow the preventive medications to be effective. Some rescue therapies include nerve blocks, trigger point injections, outpatient infusions and planned hospital admissions.


For additional resources, visit the American Headache Society and American Migraine Foundation.