Can Cold Packs Treat Headaches?

Headaches and migraines are things almost everyone deals with at some point, but if you have chronic headaches or migraines, you know how debilitating they can be. They interfere in your life in so many ways - it's hard to make plans and even harder to carry them out!

Taking a pill to manage the pain and discomfort of headaches can be a bit frustrating, especially when you have to take one every time you have a headache. Luckily, several natural approaches help with migraine treatments that, in most cases, will lessen or eliminate any headache after just a few days or weeks of continued use.

One strategy that's often recommended for those suffering from headaches and migraines is to apply a cold compress or a cold pack to the area of your head or neck that's causing pain. It's believed that applying these types of compresses has a numbing effect on the brain, which may suppress or dull any sensation of discomfort in the head.

Is cold therapy an effective remedy for headaches or migraines?

As most people know, a cold sack is a great way to relieve inflammation in the body as it numbs pain receptors - this occurs when applying a cold pack to migraine. It's something we tend to do naturally whenever we sprain our ankle or burn our finger, but did you know that cold therapy can be used on migraines too? Cold pack is notorious for its ability to numb the pain and relieve pressure from swelling, thanks to its numbing properties. When applied directly to the head, cold therapy helps reduce inflammation instantly and bring relief from headache or migraine since, much like a sprained ankle or a burnt finger, your head is also sore!

According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, cold can constrict blood vessels, which reduces pain sent to the brain. Whereas normally our body would be registering 'ouch,' it will instead register a sense of coldness.

When scientists studied patients with chronic joint pain who were treated with cooling creams or used cold packs on their arthritic hands and feet, they experienced a reduced amount of discomfort than when they didn't use cold treatment to relieve their pain. For example, patients having undergone knee surgery have been shown to have significant relief from using cold packs compared to painkillers like ibuprofen that don't directly address the problem itself and do not prevent re-inflaming swelling after activity.

A 2013 study showed that participants with migraines who applied a cold neck wrap at the onset of a headache experienced lessened pain compared to those who did not have access to such things.

A group of researchers discovered that when they administered cooling packs to individuals who had migraine headaches, they experienced less pain in the days following. They tracked the carotid artery and discovered that the neck's blood flow was cooled. The body then sent warmer-than-usual blood to the brain. It helped to reduce inflammation which in turn relieved their migraines.

What’s the best way to use a cold pack to treat a headache or a migraine?

Since cold packs tend to be sold over the counter at most drug stores, you aren't going to find that there's only one way to use this remedy. The more creative you are in applying this strategy, the more effective your outcome is likely to be when targeting how best to relieve a headache using this home remedy initiative. As always, if you have questions or concerns about treating headaches naturally, talk with a doctor before trying any of these strategies on your own.

Elliott says the best way to treat a headache or migraine with cold therapy is by applying it for about 15 - 20 minutes, but further details revealed in the 2013 study show that where you place the cold pack can also produce significant results. Specifically, he's referring to the neck wrap, which can relieve headaches and migraines.

Dr. Alex Tauberg, a certified chiropractor in Pittsburgh, suggests putting a cold pack either over the source of your pain or at the base of your skull. Keep the pack on for 20 minutes, and then take it off for an hour. You can alternate between applying and not applying the cold pack until you feel relief. When putting the cold pack on, there are four distinct feeling that you should experience in this order:

  1. cold
  2. burning
  3. aching
  4. numbness

When you experience numbness, you should remove the cold pack. For long-term relief, you must follow our recommendations; if cold is effective in providing immediate pain relief and minimizing inflammation, over-application can lead to skin damage by causing frostbite.

The bottom line

If you are unlucky to develop migraines, you might want to try home remedies. Using a cold pack is just one way a person can help relieve their pain and experience a headache that's not as painful or debilitating. While your doctor may certainly recommend some prescription medications, using a cold pack is a relatively inexpensive and usually fairly safe way of reducing the discomfort (but I would never recommend doing this when you have any skin infection). We know how often people suffer from migraines, so why not try something like this out if your doctor does not have all the answers!

When over-the-counter medications and home remedies fail to provide you with any measure of relief from the symptoms of a headache or a migraine, it might be best to talk with your doctor about additional and sometimes more extreme ways of treating your pain.


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