Previous | Next


Integrative Approaches to Treating Headaches 

The purpose of this unit is to provide a basic introduction to integrative approaches used in the treatment of headaches. 

Headaches are among the most common problems presenting to the primary care practitioner. The vast majority are of a benign etiology. However, it is important to be aware of “red flag” symptoms that warrant a more thorough work-up and approach.  These include:  new onset of “worst headache” of a person’s life, headaches associated with seizures, headaches associated with vision changes or blurry vision, pulsatile tinnitus, headaches associated with mental status changes or focal neurologic deficits, headaches associated with fever and neck stiffness, or headaches in patients at risk for brain metastases.


This module will focus on the most common headaches encountered in primary care clinics: migraine headaches, tension headaches, and headaches with components of both migraines and tension headaches. For these conditions, treatment should be chosen that is effective and of low side effect potential. Many integrative modalities address the initial causes of headaches and, at the same time, avoid the suppressive approach of traditional pharmaceutical allopathic treatments. 

In this unit, you will learn about nutritional, dietary, lifestyle, mind/body, environmental, and hormonal approaches to treating headaches. Use of these non-pharmaceutical approaches can offer effective relief to patients while presenting relatively few side effects.

This module is also for U-M Department of Family Medicine Residents on the FMCE2 rotation.

In this unit, learners will be taught:
  • The basic characteristics of three types of headaches (migraines, tension headaches, and headaches with mixed symptomotology). 
  • Dietary, environmental, lifestyle, and hormonal influences that can trigger the onset, duration, and intensity of headaches.
  • Recommended lifestyle modifications that can be used to reduce the frequency of headaches. 
  • Nutritional approaches and supplements that can be helpful in the treatment of headaches. 
  • Side effects linked to several commonly used nutritional approaches and supplements. 
  • Herbal remedies commonly used to treat headaches. 
  • The fundamental theory of homeopathic "similars." 
  • Common substance dilutions used in homeopathy and the linkages between headache symptomotology and specific homeopathic remedies. 
  • Manual therapies that have been shown effective in the treatment of headaches. 

After completing this unit, learners will be able to: 
  • Access evidence-based information regarding the use of integrative therapies in the treatment of headaches. 
  • Apply knowledge of integrative headache treatments to a clinical scenario. 
  • Learners will also express confidence in understanding the basic elements of acupuncture and what patients can expect from treatments.

(Queen Roly, Migraine, flickr. CC: BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

Disclaimer: The University of Michigan Health System Web site does not provide specific medical advice and does not endorse any medical or professional service obtained through information provided on this site or any links to this site.

Use of the UMHS web site does not replace medical consultation with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or others.

While the content of the UMHS web site is frequently updated, medical information changes rapidly and therefore, some information may be out of date, and/or contain inaccuracies or typographical errors.

Note: This module was originally developed by Ann Arbor-based family physician, John Scheerer, M.D., in 2009. It is maintained by U-M Department of Family Medicine faculty member, Gregory Shumer, M.D. Last updated: February 2018.

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Details and Exceptions. © 2013 Dr. Amy Locke.

Previous | Next