Sex and other surprising pain remedies, according to research

Alistair Gardiner | June 09, 2021

Headaches are the single-most common form of pain, and their effects can range from minor annoyance to major debilitation. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, roughly two-thirds of children will have experienced a headache by age 15, and more than 9 in 10 adults will have a headache over the course of their lifetime.

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A man at his computer who looks like he has a headache

Many of us reach for a bottle of OTC painkillers when we have a headache, but studies show there are a number of effective remedies that require no medication.

Not all headaches are the same, and most types fall into two categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. The latter refers to pain from a health event, like infection, medication overuse, a head injury, stroke, nerve disorders, or other ailments. The former occurs independently, without the presence of a catalyzing medical condition. 

Primary headaches result from events that affect blood vessels and nerves inside and outside the head, which cause pain signals to be sent to the brain, activating neurotransmitters. There are various types of primary headache, including migraine, cluster, and tension-type headaches.  

The precise causes of primary headaches are still not entirely known, which can make treatment difficult. While a variety of painkillers and other drugs are available for headache management, they don’t work for everyone. 

Here’s some good news, though: Research indicates that you may not have to turn to medication to alleviate your headache pain. Evidence suggests some natural remedies can relieve headaches or augment the effect of drug treatments.

Let's take a look at three medication-free methods for relieving the pain of a primary headache.

Orgasms

Research suggests that sexual activity may be an effective remedy for ridding yourself of a headache. In one study, researchers examined the case report of a patient who reported relieving migraine symptoms through orgasms, and they detailed the mechanism which may underlie this phenomenon in an article published in Pulsus

Headache relief from sexual activity may be due to the activation of inhibitory pain modulating circuits and the release of endorphins that occurs after sexual arousal and orgasm. For women, physiologic reflexes related to the birth process, which can be initiated during external stimulation of the vagina, may also offer pain relief. 

Another possible mechanism at work here relates to the hypothalamus, a small region of the brain involved in regulating hormones. Researchers have observed that migraines often coincide with the activation of the hypothalamus, and migraine patients have been known to respond positively to deep brain stimulation of this region. Intense hypothalamic activation also occurs during orgasm. While further research is required to confirm this theory, the authors hypothesized that orgasms may provide relief from headaches by modulating hypothalamic circuits.

Besides providing headache relief, learn about how sex can increase your feel-good hormones, at MDLinx. 

Yoga

If you’re looking for something a little less racy, you may want to try a wholesome yoga session. According to a review published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, research indicates that adding yoga to a prescribed course of medication results in significantly improved outcomes for patients, compared with medication alone. 

A study published in Neurology reached the same conclusion. Authors followed a cohort of 114 people between the ages of 18-50, all of whom suffered 4 to 14 migraines every month. Participants were split into two groups: those who received a medication intervention, and those who were prescribed medication and three to five yoga sessions over the course of 3 months.

Researchers found that participants in the yoga group experienced a 48% reduction in numbers of headaches per month, compared with a 12% reduction experienced by the medication-only group. Those in the yoga group also reported their headaches were far less painful, and reported using increasingly less medication as time went on, compared with the drug-only group.

Read more about yoga and other exercises that help relieve pain at MDLinx

Caffeine

This one is a little complex, as illustrated by a review published in Nutrients. “Although caffeine has been connected to migraine for many years, its effect on headache is ambiguous,” the authors wrote. In some cases, caffeine may be a cause of migraines, while other studies show it can also offer migraine relief. 

The review authors examined 21 studies investigating the prevalence of caffeine/caffeine withdrawal as a trigger for migraine and seven studies evaluating caffeine in treatment of acute migraine. “Among them, in 17 studies, caffeine/caffeine withdrawal was found to be a migraine trigger in a small percentage of participants (ranging from 2% to 30%), while all treatment studies found caffeine to be safe and effective in acute migraine treatment, mostly in combination with other analgesics,” the authors wrote.  

Evidence suggests caffeine can reduce feelings of pain by blocking adenosine receptors and inhibiting cyclooxygenase activity. “It has been proved that caffeine and caffeine-containing analgesics are effective in the treatment of several types of primary and secondary headaches,” the authors wrote.

As for triggering migraines, they concluded: “Based on our review of the current literature, there is insufficient evidence to show that a single dose of caffeine is a migraine trigger; however, it should be emphasized that chronic caffeine overuse may lead to migraine chronification and sudden caffeine cessation may trigger migraine attacks.”

Patients who suffer regular migraines should monitor the amount of caffeine that they’re consuming and aim to remain consistent. Additionally, the authors recommended that migraine sufferers consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day and try not to abruptly stop their consumption, even during weekends.

Also, if you are taking in caffeine along with medications, you might want to check out Avoid caffeine overload when taking these drugs, at MDLinx.

Do what works for you

If the strategies above don't work for you, there are plenty of other headache remedies out there. For example, numerous studies tout the benefits of riboflavin as a headache reliever. Known as vitamin B2, riboflavin can be found in many foods, including dairy products, eggs, spinach, and lean beef and pork.

Researchers have also found that getting a good night’s sleep can be a highly effective treatment for headaches. And, as it turns out, sex before bed can help you get that better night’s sleep. Read more at MDLinx.

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