Hot and Cold Treatments for Headache Relief

We know that headaches are caused by inflammation, so it makes sense that using the same treatment (alternating hot and cold therapy) that helps inflammation in a sprained ankle would also help a relieve a headache. In fact, some people who frequently suffer from headaches say taking a brisk walk in cold air helps relieve their headache pain. Others say that taking a hot shower or bath as soon as they feel a migraine coming on can stop the pain from developing. However, there are people for whom these treatments simply cause the headache to develop more quickly and be worse when it does develop. So, what is the answer? Is either hot or cold therapy good for headaches?

Research has found that headaches can be relieved by hot treatments as well as cold treatments. While some find relief using hot treatments others find it in cold treatments. There are still others who find that alternating hot and cold treatments is the best way to relieve headache pain.

Want to know which treatment is best for you? The only way to find out is by experimenting with both types or a combination of both types of treatments. You might check with your doctor to see if he has any input into which might be best for you to try first or if there are any dangers in trying either method. For instance if you are pregnant, soaking in a super hot tub is not an option you’ll want to try.

Hot or Cold Works

It has been discovered that some people who suffer from frequent headaches find effective relief using hot or cold therapy, or a combination of both. These treatments work well because they effectively target the muscles and blood vessels responsible for headache pain. For example, migraine pain is usually the result of enlarged blood vessels pressing on the surrounding nerves. When you expose this area to cold, it causes the vessels to constrict which reduces the pressure on the nerves and in turn lessens the pain.

However, if you are dealing with a headache brought on by anxiety or tension, a combination of hot and cold treatments may be best. This is because tension causes the muscles to tighten up which pinches the nerves and also enlarges blood vessels. These tight muscles can be relaxed by applying cold and heat alternately. By relaxing the muscles, the pinched nerves are released and the blood vessels return to their normal size, thereby relieving headache pain.

Soak Your Feet, Cure the Headache

While it may sound strange, it does work! By soaking your feet and ankles in hot water, you cause the vessels in lower extremities to expand, requiring more blood to fill them. This action draws blood away from the head causing the vessels in your head to constrict and release the pressure on the nerves. For even more relief, try applying a cold compress to your forehead while your feet soak. This will ensure that the heat from your feet does not rise to your head and worsen the headache. After you have finished soaking, put on thick socks to keep your feet warm and the vessels dilated.

Applying the Cold Treatment

When using a cold pack to relieve headache pain, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, don’t leave a cold pack on your skin for more than 30 minutes. After this period of time, remove it to give your skin a break from the cold. After a break, you can reapply the cold if needed. Second, if you don’t have a store bought cold pack on hand, there are some substitutes you can use. For instance, you can use regular ice cubes packed in a plastic bag, or even a bag of frozen peas if you have them. If you use either of these options, however, be sure to wrap the bag in a thin towel to ensure you won’t freeze your skin.

Brain Freeze

You can also freeze out a headache using ice cream. To do this, put a spoonful of ice cream in the back of your mouth. Allow it to melt completely before you swallow. Although this treatment may be painful at the time, it is a great way to “cool” your brain down, effectively stopping a headache or preventing a migraine from getting any worse. This works because the ice cream in the back of your throat quickly cools your hypothalamus, the organ believed to be responsible for the onset of migraines.

Hot and Cold Packs

If you can afford it, you can buy both a hot pack and a cold pack to help treat your migraines. You can use these packs alternately to treat your headaches and migraines. These packs come in a variety of choices. There are stick-on cold forehead patches, rectangular packs and fully fitted masks. Some hot packs can even be warmed in the microwave and reused many times while there are cold packs that don’t even require freezing. You just twist or squeeze the pack and a mixture of chemicals causes the pack to instantly become cold.

If you cannot take the time to lie down while treating your migraine with cold and hot treatments, consider getting a cold and a hot pack that you can wear like a band around the forehead and temples. These packs use Velcro to fasten them on your head. While you may look a little silly, at least you’ll feel better.

If your headaches are caused by stiff neck and shoulders, try using a moist heat neck wrap to relieve the tension. If your headache is due to a dental problem or TMJ, try using a cold wrap. This type of cold pack fastens over the top of your head and holds the cold pack in contact with your chin and jaws. For menopausal women suffering from hot flashes and night sweats as well as women who are on tamoxifen, a cooling ice pillow may just be the perfect way to relieve these headaches.


If you suffer frequent headaches and migraines, it might be worth your while to experiment with hot and cold therapy. These methods of pain treatment are not addictive, like some prescription pain medications, and also do not have the gastrointestinal side effects some experience when taking tradition over the counter headache medicines. While heat therapy may help some, cold therapy may be best for others. You may even find a combination of the two relieves your pain the best. Do some experimentation with hot and cold treatments for your headaches – it may be the best relief you can get.

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