Cold Therapy for Migraine Headaches
Cold therapy is also known as cryotherapy, and it's one of the most common self-care treatments for people with migraine. When suffering from migraines, lay down with a cold pack on your neck or cover your head with a cold towel. Common side effects include headaches and teeth chattering, but they are worth not letting the migraine take over your day. The treatment has been used for over 150 years, and studies show that it reduced headaches by 66%.2 It's important to note that, like all other treatments, there might be some unexpected side effects that should be discussed first with a doctor before trying.
Cold therapy, when applied to the head and neck, this type of therapy constricts blood vessels and reduces inflammation. Cooling the head and neck has been shown to have a pain-reducing effect on the nervous system.
Different products for cold therapy
- Ice bag
- Cold pack
- Fluids used on the skin, like ethyl chloride, that cool by evaporation
- Cooling pads
- Gelcaps to be worn on the head
- Cold compression wraps
- Frozen gel packs inserted into headbands
Studies on cold therapy and migraine
There are few studies on cold therapy and migraine. In a recently published study, a gel cap filled with frozen liquid can be used by people with migraine to find some relief as it numbs their pain for up to an hour. (This study did not have a control group that receives no treatment or a placebo, so the findings cannot be interpreted broadly.) The gel cap was kept in the freezer and used for two migraine attacks by each participant. After using the cold gel cap for 25 minutes, the severity of migraine was reduced in 50% of the patients in their first migraine attack, and three patients had a complete response (their migraine was relieved). In the second round of the migraine experiment, 57.6% of participants reported a positive outcome, significantly more than those previously given the placebo treatment.
A more recent study out of the UK selected 55 eligible migraine patients who were randomly assigned to a cold neck wrap group or a control group that used a room temperature wrap. To avoid bias, neither the patients nor the staff knew what type of treatment patients received. The results showed that those who used the cold wraps experienced a significant reduction in their migraine attack severity at 30 minutes and had longer periods before needing to use rescue medications. Also, 77% of those tested in the study said that they felt their migraine was helped by using cold neck wraps and had only needed to consume 57.6% as many pain relievers compared with the control group who required 87.6%.
Possible side effects of cold therapy
Because cold therapy doesn't involve ingesting any medications or supplements, there are few side effects from using this treatment method. People who have problems with intolerance to cold temperatures should expect possibly experience greater discomfort because they would not be able to tolerate being treated by this method. These are not all the possible side effects of cold therapy; however, it is best for anyone considering undergoing this type of treatment to speak with their doctor about what to expect from the procedure itself and all that it entails before making a final decision on whether or not one wishes to pursue these types of treatment methods in general, as well as getting more specific advice from your provider as far as this particular choice is concerned.
Who should not use cold therapy for migraine?
Before beginning any therapy, do some research and consult your doctor. In particular, if you are pregnant, nursing, have any circulatory problems like diabetes or skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis. Cold packs should not be applied to bare skin constantly. Using a cloth covering can help prevent damage like frostbite or burns.
As always, a doctor is the best source for medical advice intended specifically for migraine sufferers. However, to provide as much helpful information as possible regarding books and herbs, these summaries have been put together to avoid any serious medical recommendations from your physician. Please know that when consulting a physician first about these or any other remedies, you will remember most of all that the actual treatment should be something you discuss between yourself and your doctor!