It may be a cliché, but for a lot of singers “the show must go on”. This can mean getting on stage and performing with a headache or migraine. For fast relief from head pain, singers often have to try alternative remedies to traditional painkillers.
Singers are prone to headaches and migraines. But they’re limited to what they can take to ease the pain; some painkillers have a counterproductive effect on the voice. Natural remedies, supplements, and vocal steamers are a singer’s go-to for headache relief.
This article will give a full break down of the different types of headaches and the best ways to relieve them. All these tips and techniques are singer-approved and have no side effects on your voice.
Forehead tension when singing
Identifying what’s causing your headache will quickly get you on the path to treating it. Stress, anxiety, and vocal strain can cause you to contract your facial muscles when you sing.
If you hold too much tension in your forehead or face, this can cause tension headaches or stress headaches.
To release forehead tension when you sing, give you face a workout and try these facial exercises:
- Happy face – smiling engages a lot of your facial muscles. Smile as wide as you possibly can and hold for 5 seconds. Then let your face relax, before repeating for at least ten reps per session.
- Face Yoga – rub your hands together to warm your palms. Then massage around your eyes with your palms in circular movements to increase blood circulation and relieve tension.
- Nose Scrunch – for 10 seconds, really tense the muscles in your nose. Scrunch and wrinkle your nose and try to widen your nostrils. Then release all tension and repeat again three times.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – sit somewhere quiet and comfortable and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and relax, and then tense your face as much as you can by pulling scowls and frowns. Hold for ten seconds, then release and focus on letting your muscles loosen while breathing deeply.
Pressure headaches are also known as tension headaches. They’re one of the most common types of head pain singers suffer from.
Ibuprofen and aspirin are the go-to medication for treating pressure headaches. But using over the counter medication can lead to rebound headaches and vocal side-effects for singers. Healthline recommends trying these natural supplements before resorting to medication:
- Vitamin B-2
- Vitamin D
- Coenzyme Q10
Singing with a headache
A headache can strike while you’re in the middle of a performance and throw you off your game. If you’re in the middle of a song and can’t take a break, try to minimise the pain until you get to the end of the track.
Move out of the glare of bright lights if you can – these are probably causing your headache. Try squeezing your eyes shut for 10 seconds and then reopening them and releasing the tension you were holding. This will help relax any taught muscles.
You might even be able to time closing your eyes with an intense moment in the song to make it look like you’re giving an extra emotional performance.
Keep a bottle of water on the edge of your set and take a swig at regular intervals – this will stop your vocal cords drying out too.
Do drugs affect your singing voice?
Your first impulse might be to reach for medication to numb a headache. This may not be the best option for a singer as over-the-counter drugs can potentially hinder your singing ability.
The side-effects of prescription drugs should be small and may not affect everyone. In the worst cases, certain medications can cause your voice to sound raspy, hoarse, or increase nasal drip.
Regularly taking painkillers for headaches can start to have a really negative effect on your voice (and health) because they thin the blood in the body. This reduces blood flow in your vocal folds and – paired with strain and dehydration from doing regular gigs – can potentially lead to vocal haemorrhaging.
What drugs affect your voice?
NSAID’s (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are safe to take in moderation to treat headaches. But they can start to thin the blood in your vocal cords if you take them too much. These include drugs like:
Other drugs to avoid taking for your headache include:
- Nasal Sprays
For a full list of prescription drugs and the effect they have on your vocals, take a look at this article:
How do you get rid of a headache without painkillers?
Singers don’t have to suffer in silence when a headache strikes. There are plenty of alternative methods to painkillers to help numb head pain. Give these a go:
- Massage lavender oil into your temples and neck
- Drink plenty of water
- Apply an ice pack/heat compress
- Take vitamins and herbal supplements
- Try drinking ginger tea
- Get some exercise
- Relax with yoga or meditation
- Give acupuncture a go
- Take a bath with two cups of Epsom Salts
- Use a vocal steamer
Singing and migraines
Singers are prone to migraines. Bright lights, loud noises, and stressful environments all cause migraines and artists are exposed to these every time they get on stage.
If you suffer from persistent migraines, try getting to the root of the problem. Keep a headache diary to track what triggers an episode.
Try an elimination diet too. Certain foods can bring on migraines, like processed meat, cheese, and red wine. Avoiding specific foods for a while might reveal what’s making you more susceptible to headaches. Chocolate is one of the biggest culprits for inducing migraines, and it has a surprising impact on your vocal health too.
What gets rid of a headache fast?
Headaches always strike at the worst possible time. If you’re struck by a migraine just as you’re about to go on stage, these can provide instant relief:
The smell of lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus are said to soothe head pain. Wear a diffuser bracelet with a couple of drops of these on it during your show.
Relieve tension in your neck and temples by giving yourself a massage.
Apply an ice pack
For sharp and throbbing headaches, put an ice pack on your forehead. Make sure there’s a paper towel or cloth around the ice to protect your skin from ice burn.
Use a heat compress
If your headache feels more like tension and a tight pain, wear a heat compress around the back of your neck or shoulders.
If your headache still isn’t budging, take aspirin or ibuprofen in moderation.
What can I take for a headache that does not contain aspirin?
If you’re looking for an alternative to aspirin, the answer might be in your kitchen cupboard. Ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper and turmeric all share the same anti-inflammatory properties as painkillers.
These natural products all contain antioxidants and will work at reducing the inflammation and pain caused by headaches. Ginger and Turmeric can both enjoyed in tea or can be taken in capsule form.
What you eat and drink as a singer can play a crucial role in your vocal health. Take note of what’s good for your voice and what foods you should limit before making any big changes to your diet.
Vocal steamer for singers
A vocal steamer (sometimes called a steam inhaler) is a device that releases a light mist of steam that’s easy to inhale. It’s a great remedy for headaches.
Vocal steamers have multiple health benefits for singers. Breathing in the steam and tiny droplets of water from a vocal steamer hydrates the vocal cords and warms and soothes them.
Straining your vocal cords when you sing high notes can cause tension headaches. Taking a break with a vocal steamer can rejuvenate your vocal folds for when you next go to sing.
The warm steam also works as a decongestant and clears and unblocks your head, relieving the build-up of tension that can result in a migraine.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?
Headaches are more common than migraines. If you have a headache, you’ll usually feel pain and pressure on both sides of your head. They can cause aching in your forehead, temples, and neck and the pain can vary from mild to severe.
Migraines are much more intense and painful than a headache. They typically cause pain in one side of the head and often come with other symptoms including seeing spots in your vision, pain behind one eye, nausea and vomiting.
- Will song choice affect my headache?
Certain types of music are more likely to induce headaches. Heavy metal, rock, and screamo are all typically louder genres and involve heavy instruments and backing music.
Performing songs with a lot of high notes can also cause more headaches. When you sing in your head voice, you put more pressure on your vocal cords. This can sometimes lead to vocal strain and the tension you’re putting on your muscles causes headaches.
Do you suffer from headaches and how does it affect your singing? Let us know and leave any additional tips in the comments below!