Headaches: Why your skull throbs and how to get rid of headaches

Woman rubbing her aching temples.

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We Will Show You How to Distinguish Different Types of Headaches, How They Develop and Which Exercises Alleviate the Pain

Headaches — who doesn’t have them? Thumping, pulsating pain behind the forehead, the eyes or at the back of the head. When your skull is throbbing, your quality of life suffers. Those who can rule out clear causes such as excessive alcohol consumption or severe visual impairment without wearing glasses or other medical aids often embark on a long search for the trigger. Headache types are very varied and show up with the most diverse symptoms. Severe headache attacks can even be accompanied by nausea, neck stiffness or sensitivity to light and sound.

We explain how your headache often really develops and the differences between the various types of headache. We will also show you exercises and relaxation methods that help you quickly getting rid of your headaches and violent pain attacks.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's most trusted pain specialist and author of several bestselling self-help books on the treatment of pain conditions.

Read more

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's most trusted pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, Dr. med. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary method to treat pain conditions. With the help of the so-called "osteopressure", where you press specific points on your body, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped entirely without medication or surgical intervention. This pain treatment allows you to alleviate pain by yourself. Find out how exactly this works in this article or our numerous YouTube videos.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht

Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on self-help against pain.

Read more

Roland Liebscher-Bracht is Germany's best-known pain specialist and author of several bestselling books on pain treatment. Together with his wife, the physician Dr. Petra Bracht, he has developed a revolutionary new form of pain treatment: With the so-called "Osteopressur", in which certain points on your body are pressed, and special stretching exercises, pain can be stopped completely without medication or surgical intervention. It is particularly important that this pain treatment gives you the opportunity to help yourself against your pain in a self-determined way. You can find out exactly how this works in this article and in the numerous YouTube videos.

1. Origin: What Types of Headaches Are There and How Do They Differ?

Headache (cephalgia) is usually a symptom whose causes are very different and manifest themselves in many different types of headache. However, cephalgia, the medical term for headache, can be so severe that it significantly reduces the quality of life of those affected. The International Headache Society (IHS) distinguishes over 200 different types of headache disorders (cephalgias) in the so-called headache classification. Roughly, all types are divided into three large groups:

  • primary headaches,
  • secondary headaches and
  • cranial neuralgia.

More than 90 percent of all patients have primary headache and only in 5-10 percent a headache is the symptom of another disease.

1.1 Primary or Idiopathic Headaches

Primary headaches, for example, cannot be attributed to a “previous illness”. This means that physical exams do not produce pathological findings and thus no “real” diagnosis. The headache itself is the disorder. Primary headaches include – the most common – tension headache (often with neck stiffness), migraine and cluster headache.

A migraine attack or cluster headaches can be very severe – to the point of vomiting and visual disturbances in your eyes often associated with aura migraine. Migraine patients often complain of

  • unilateral headaches 
  • with violent pain attacks
  • sensitivity to light
  • sensitivity to sound and
  • lack of sleep due to migraine attacks.

The great news for you is that you don’t have to suffer unnecessarily and can treat all these headache types, including migraines and clusters, yourself with our exercises – without aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or other painkillers. Read more about this topic in the chapter Treatment.

1.2 Secondary or Symptomatic Headaches

These headache disorders can be traced back to a precisely definable cause. The pain in the head is only the accompanying symptom of another health disorder. Attacks of this type of headache are due to

  • head and/or neck trauma,
  • drug intolerance or overuse,
  • infections such as meningitis,
  • changes in blood pressure or
  • other disorders.

Meningitis (inflammation of the meninges) is a serious condition and usually begins with flu-like symptoms. If there is a suspicion of meningitis, you should definitely consult a doctor.

In the course of meningitis (infection of the meninges) but also after a trauma to the head, paralysis can occur. If paralysis occurs in certain parts of the body, it is best to call the emergency doctor immediately. Sometimes a spontaneous dissection occurs, which can easily be overlooked. A dissection is a tear in an artery which then becomes blocked and undersupplies the corresponding area of the brain. This is where pain occurs – even headaches. As a result of the dissection, the patient may lose consciousness. Often the dissection occurs in the carotid artery and causes a stroke with severe headaches as the main symptom. Then, at the latest, it is time to call the emergency doctor.

1.3 Cranial Neuralgia

It’s a sudden nerve pain shooting towards the head. Seizures with severe headaches can be limited to one half of the head, due to trigeminal neuralgia for example. Taking painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) usually cannot alleviate the pain satisfactorily. But headaches caused by external pressure or cold-related headaches also belong to this group of headache disorders. Accompanying symptoms of these headaches, such as extreme pain, nausea or dizziness, often make you wonder about a serious illness or even a brain tumor. But don’t worry: As a rule, this fear is unfounded. Headaches due to brain tumors occur in less than 0.1 percent of all headache cases.

1.4 Diagnosis

The American Headache Society has under the acronym SNOOP put together warning signs that may indicate serious illnesses. This does not refer to common and easily treatable primary headaches, but to secondary or cranial complaints. If you have or suspect that these symptoms and accompanying symptoms are present, or if these warning signs clearly show up, you should definitely consult a physician or emergency doctor.

  • S: stands for systemic symptoms like fever or vomiting
  • N: stands for neurological symptoms like dizziness, speech disorder or unconsciousness
  • O: stands for “onset”, i.e. the onset of the complaints, meaning an explosive beginning with maximum complaints within one minute.
  • O: stands for “older age”. Statistically speaking, people over 50 years of age have an increased risk of a stroke – whose symptom can be headaches.
  • P: stands for “pattern change”. In this case, the headache proceeds in a completely different way than in previously existing “normal tension headaches”.

The Best Exercises and Tips Against Headaches

Download our FREE PDF guide featuring our 6 most effective exercises for preventing and getting rid of headaches & migraines. 

A preview of the Liebscher & Bracht's guide against headachs and migraines with the front page on the left side.
All gain. No pain.

2. How Do Headaches Develop According to Liebscher & Bracht?

The International Headache Society’s distinction of over 200 headache forms with varying degrees of severity is not necessary for our approach. Whether syndromes come in the form of tension headaches, cluster headaches or migraines, whether they are mild, moderate or severe and whether they occur unilaterally or bilaterally – all of them often have the same cause. And here we explain it to you:

In our modern sedentary life, we often don’t move as much as we should and, above all, are not very versatile in our activities. For example, when we sit a lot, we always assume the same angles with our joints – only about 10 percent of all possible positions nature offers! Over time, muscles and fascia adapt to these dominant one-sided positions.

This leads to high muscular-fascial tension in the body, which again causes joint surfaces and vertebral bodies to be strongly pressed against each other, resulting in increased wear and tear. Receptors in the periosteum register this and report it to the brain. The brain then sends a so-called alarm pain to the affected body regions. Our body wants to tell us that we should not continue as before.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht showing some points on a skeleton.

Headaches, like most pain attacks, are therefore purely a protection of the body so that you do not put too much strain on your cervical spine. In the long run, if you sit frequently, you start to tilt your whole body forward and especially your shoulders. You often stretch your head forward and the neck muscles become shorter and shorter.

When you stand up straight again, the tension in your chest area counteract the tension in your neck and shoulders. The whole thing works like an arms race and as a result, the overall tension becomes higher and higher and your head starts to hurt. Our goal is to normalize exactly these tensions in your body.

To achieve this, 72 osteopressor points from the therapy developed by Roland Liebscher-Bracht are targeted to “switch off” the alarm pain as the first step. By pressing the points on the periosteum, the signals are transmitted to the brain and muscular-fascial tensions normalize. The alarm pain is set.

However, it is important for a lasting effect that the movement patterns that caused the pain are also changed permanently. Otherwise you will fall back into your old patterns and muscular-fascial tensions will build up again – and then the alarm pain will return. This is why Roland Liebscher-Bracht has developed 27 so-called bottleneck stretching exercises that aim to make the fasciae more flexible and establish new movement patterns in the brain. In our exercise video at the end of the article we show you these stretching exercises. You can easily do them at home and thus relieve your complaints.

2.1. How Do Headaches Develop According to Orthodox Medicine? A Cause Analysis

According to orthodox medicine, the causes of secondary, symptomatic headaches lie in the underlying disease or disorder. Treatment should be discussed with a doctor.

In the case of primary headaches, opinions in medicine differ. Physicians often attribute tension headaches to tensed-up musculature. Often, however, the patient won’t get an explanation for the cause but a shrug from their doctor and the advice to take painkillers and reduce stress.

A girl is looking at her mobile phone.

With the increased use of the internet and smartphones in our daily lives, the question if this causes headaches is often brought up. Italian researchers have conducted a population-based cross-sectional study with young people. They investigated the relationship between the intensity of internet and smartphone use and the incidence of migraine and headaches. The results:

Adolescents with above-average internet and mobile phone use tend to have a higher risk of tension headaches and migraines.1)

Migraines in particular can be very severe with vomiting and visual problems. Many people adopt a poor posture when using a computer or smartphone in their hands, which leads to tension in the muscles in the shoulder and neck area. This is where our exercises come in handy and can help you.

2.2. The Connection Between Weather Changes and Headaches — A Myth?

A sky full of clouds.

Many migraine patients and others who suffer attribute their headache attacks to the weather. A change in the weather, an approaching high or low pressure system as well as down-slope winds, called foehn winds, are conducive to headaches. But what does the research tells us? Many studies have analyzed the relationship between different weather parameters and the incidence of headaches. The studies did not find a significant link between weather changes and headaches or migraines.

3. Treatment: How does Liebscher & Bracht Treat Headeaches?

3.1 Pain Therapy and Stretching Exercises

The goal of our pain therapy with manual therapy treatment is first to localize and then to normalize the excessive tensions. This way the pain will disappear for good. In the pain therapy developed by Roland Liebscher-Bracht, special osteopressor points can be used to target the alarm pain receptors in the periosteum in the case of headaches. The alarm pain is then set.

However, it is important for a long-term effect that one-sided movement patterns and activities that are the cause of the pain are permanently compensated. Otherwise, we fall back into old patterns and muscular-fascial tensions build up – and the alarm pain comes back. Therefore, you should do our bottleneck stretching exercises and fascial roller massages regularly to keep your fascia flexible and to establish new movement patterns in the brain.

Roland Liebscher-Bracht pointing out something at a skeleton.

As you can see, the clinical picture of headaches, especially tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches as well as permanent headaches, are usually caused by tension. Especially muscle tensions in the neck or cervical spine cause the dull or stabbing headaches. With our exercises in the lower section you can stretch your muscles and fasciae and thus relieve your headaches. If you do the exercises regularly, your headaches can disappear completely. 

By the way, you can also do our exercises as a prophylaxis, i.e. to prevent headaches! The exercises are particularly effective for tension-type headaches. Some patients keep a headache diary. In this headache diary you can enter your experiences and successes with our pain therapy.

Did you already know? With your diet you can influence your headaches. Foods that contain a lot of glutamate or histamine (e.g. in hard cheese or red wine) as well as alcohol are conducive to headaches and particularly harmful to migraine patients. Foods such as coffee, dates and raisins or whole wheat products help to get rid of headaches quickly.

3.2 What Therapies Are Available in Conventional Medicine?

The International Headache Society (IHS) distinguishes over 200 types of headache. The most common headache syndrome is the so-called primary headache. These include tension headache, migraine and cluster headache. The treatment of primary headaches is explained here. There are also the secondary headaches. Here, the headache is only a consequence of another “disease”. This means e.g. headaches after whiplash injuries. Secondary headaches should definitely be examined by a doctor. Cranial neuralgia such as SUNCT syndrome (Short-lasting Unilateral Neuralgiform headache with Conjunctival injection and tearing) should also be examined by a doctor. Here you can find out when it is best to see a doctor.

Treatment for Tension Headaches

Tension headache is the most common type of headache. Patients with tension-type headaches lose an average of nine working days because of their symptoms. For chronic headaches, it is even 27 working days.2) Research has shown that genetic factors also play a role. 1st degree relatives of patients with chronic tension-type headache have a 3 times higher risk of also developing chronic headaches.3) Recent research has shown that up to 50 percent of patients with tension headaches have significantly higher levels of anxiety and/or depression compared to people of the same age and sex. However, doctors also believe that tension-type headaches are often caused by muscular disorders.4) Below you find some therapies that can be used for tension-type headache.

A variety of pain medication.

Medication and painkillers: For headaches, many people initially take over-the-counter painkillers from the pharmacy, such as ibuprofen, paracetamol or aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). However, taking these substances should only be an emergency solution and not a permanent one. Although the drugs provide short-term relief for many people with this type of headache, the cause of the pain remains. Some drugs also have undesirable side effects. It is therefore more important that the muscles and fasciae in the neck and shoulder area are well stretched.

A syringe and three vials.

Botox: Some years ago, women who had cosmetic treatment with botulinum toxin (Botox) reported a reduction in their tension headaches and migraines. Today, botulinum toxin A is also approved for the treatment of chronic migraine. In studies, researchers have found that Botox only works in patients with chronic migraines and in some patients with chronic headaches. However, the difference from the placebo control group was not significant.5) So before you get Botox injections, try our headache exercises first.


Peppermint oil: Especially with children, many parents do not want to give medication for headaches right away and therefore resort to remedies and substances from natural medicine. Doctors recommend peppermint oil especially for children to alleviate the symptoms. Applied to the temples, the oil has an analgesic and relaxing effect. The peppermint oil speeds up the relaxation of the muscles via the temples and promotes blood circulation. However, the oil is not only effective for children – even as an adult you can simply apply this household remedy to your temples.6)


Manual therapeutic treatment: In the Netherlands, a study was conducted with 82 patients suffering from chronic tension headaches: One group of the test subjects received manual therapeutic treatment with a combination of cervical and thoracic spine mobilization and physiotherapy. The control group received standard therapy from a general practitioner with information and lifestyle change advice. After 26 weeks, the manual therapy group had a significantly lower frequency of headaches compared to the standard therapy group.7) The study thus proves how effective exercise can be in relieving your pain and discomfort.

Treatment of Cluster Headaches

The so-called cluster headaches are considered the most severe primary headaches. Untreated, the attacks last between 15 and 180 minutes and can occur several times. The pain is experienced as extreme, accompanied sometimes by nausea, and episodes occur more often in autumn/winter or spring.8)

  • Oxygen: Oxygen is often given as acute therapy for cluster headaches. Oxygen is usually well tolerated by all patients. The effectiveness of oxygen has been confirmed in studies.9)
  • 💊 Medication: In addition to oxygen, there are some medications that can help against the severe pain, such as Sumatriptan or Lidocaine. These drugs are grouped together under the generic term triptans and are effective for both the severe headache attacks and migraine attacks. Those who want to take less or eventually no medication for headaches at all, should do our exercises regularly. During these exercises you relax all the muscles that could trigger your headaches
  • 💉 Ketamine: Ketamine is a drug that is used for pain relief in human and veterinary medicine. In studies, ketamine has also been used to treat cluster headaches to stop the attacks.10) However, all patients showed moderate to severe fatigue after administration of ketamine, which lasted up to 24 hours. In contrast, the efficacy of the drug lasted between 6 and 18 months in the subjects.11)


Roland Liebscher-Bracht is performing a pain-free exercise.

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All gain. No pain.


Roland Liebscher-Bracht is performing a pain-free exercise.

Sign up for The Pain Relief Advisor and each week we’ll deliver free expert pain management content right to your inbox.

All gain. No pain.

3.2. Does Drinking a Lot Help with Headaches?

Water is poured out of a bottle into a glass.

Popular wisdom has it that you should drink a lot for the pain to go away. But does that really work? In recent years, there have been repeated studies that have investigated increased fluid intake in migraine and headaches. In a Dutch study, for example, 102 patients were observed over three months. All test persons were asked to increase their daily drinking intake by 1.5 liters. In the end, the number of migraine or headache days did not decrease during these months. However, the high amount of liquid made the attacks and the form of the pain more bearable.12)

4. Exercises against Headaches

A woman is performing a neck pain exercise.

Exercise 1: Lateral stretching

  • Sit up straight on a chair or mat. Pull your left shoulder down and at the same time bend your left arm.
  • Also turn your head to the left at a 45-degree angle.
  • Reach with your right hand over your head to your left ear and pull your head forward and down right into the stretch (see picture).
  • Do the exercise for two minutes and increase the intensity during that time.
  • Then change sides: Pull the right shoulder down and bend the right arm. Turn your head to the right at a 45-degree angle, grab your left arm over your head and pull it forward and down to the left. Important for this relaxation method is that you consciously keep your shoulder down and not pull it up.
A woman is using a fascia-fit foam roller for her neck.

Exercise 2: Fascial roller massage with the mini roller

Sit down on a chair or your knees again. Turn your head to the side and place our mini roll on your cervical spine in a 45° angle. Important: Do not place the roll behind or on the side of your neck. It has to be in the middle of these two spots. Keep rolling down the muscle string slowly and focused until you reach your shoulder blade. Repeat the exercise two to three times.

The Best Exercises and Tips Against Headaches

Download our FREE PDF guide featuring our 6 most effective exercises for preventing and getting rid of headaches & migraines. 

A preview of the Liebscher & Bracht's guide against headachs and migraines with the front page on the left side.
All gain. No pain.

Sources & Studies [+]