Can ice packs relieve headaches?

Headaches are never a good time. It can be frustrating and inconvenient when they pop up. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can often control pain, but a natural remedy is to use an ice pack. Cold therapy (clinically called cryotherapy) can help treat many types of headaches, including migraines and other primary headache disorders.

In this article, you’ll learn how to use ice packs, how they relieve pain, and how to prevent headaches.

Evidence of cold therapy

Using ice packs and cooling the head to relieve headaches is a proven and well-documented method. Studies have shown that it helps relieve types such as migraines (which often recur, are more severe, and cause other symptoms such as nausea) and tension headaches (more common and milder). Some of the key findings include:

  • Efficacy in migraine: A 2015 study of 20 migraine sufferers found that cryotherapy provided complete pain relief in 8 participants (40%) and partial relief in 10 (50%) participants . Twenty-four hours after application, 87% of study subjects experienced a significant reduction in symptom severity.
  • Targeted neck cooling: A 2013 study focused on targeted neck cooling for carotid migraines (the main blood vessels in the front of the neck). They found that applying ice during a headache attack significantly reduced pain intensity 30 minutes later, making it a viable and effective option.
  • Managing tension headaches: Researchers have also looked at cold therapy for tension headaches. A 2019 study of 14 women with tension headaches found that cooling the neck and head to reduce the intensity and character of attacks helped manage symptoms. Also, those who use this method do not use as many pain management, analgesic (pain relief) medications.

How cold therapy relieves pain

When you’re cold, your blood vessels narrow, which affects the circulation of pain-related nerves. Cold therapy slows the nerve transmission of pain messages, while also reducing the local inflammation (swelling) that is often the source of the problem. Basically, this therapy relieves pain by replacing it with a cold.

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How to use an ice pack

Although there are also many reusable cold packs in the store, cold therapy can be easily performed at home using household materials. The three main ways to cool your head are:

  • Ice towel: Soak a towel in cold water and wring it out until wet. Fold it and put it in a plastic bag, then put it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Make sure to remove the towel from the bag before use.
  • Ice pack: Fill a plastic bag (or store-bought ice pack) with about half a pound of ice and add a little water before sealing. Wrap the package in a damp towel before use.
  • Cold bags: In addition to the many options available at the store, you can also use a bag of frozen peas or corn as a cold bag. You can also make a homemade ice pack by freezing 3 cups of water and 1 cup of rubbing alcohol. Using a resealable plastic bag, remove excess air and let it freeze into slush. This type can be refrozen after thawing and reused.

Generally, the idea is to cool the forehead and temples or neck for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. If symptoms persist, repeat as many times a day as needed.

skin safe

When freezing, do not allow ice cubes or ice packs to come into direct contact with your skin. Place a cloth between them and your head or neck.

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Headache Prevention Tips

Ice packs and cold therapy can help relieve symptoms after a headache, but there are many things you can do to prevent headaches, too. A lot depends on the specific nature of your problem—for example, a treatment for a tension headache might not work for a migraine—but the key is finding what works for you.

Here are some tips to stop a headache attack:

  • Get a good night’s sleep: Make sure you get enough sleep (7 to 8 hours for adults and 9 hours or more for children) and go to bed and wake up at consistent times. Make your bed a screen-free area and don’t work there.
  • Exercise: Being physically active has many health benefits and has been shown to help with headache disorders like migraines. Aim for at least 150 minutes of light to moderate activity per week (about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week).
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration is a common cause of headaches, so make sure you’re drinking enough water. About half a gallon per day is recommended, if you participate in physical activity you will need more.
  • Avoid triggers: Especially with migraines, triggers such as stress, anxiety, certain foods and drinks, flashes, and smells can trigger headaches. Tracking and avoiding these triggers can prevent the onset.
  • Relaxation methods: Tension and stress can trigger tension headaches and migraines. Activities that focus on stretching, such as yoga or tai chi, can help with these problems, as can other methods, such as biofeedback therapy (a mind-body technique that controls body processes, often involuntarily), gardening, and even Take a bath or walk nearby.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques involve deep breathing and guided meditation to relieve stress and tension that can lead to headaches. They help keep you focused on the present moment and help you create a peaceful state of mind.

Be careful with medicines

Over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers and antihistamines, if used too frequently, can cause medication overuse headache (MOH), also known as rebound headache. This can cause headaches that come on almost every day as your medication wears off.

Talk to your doctor if you take a medication such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) more than 3 times a week for pain relief.


Using ice packs on the temples and neck is an effective way to control and relieve headaches. Cold therapy has been shown to be effective for many types of headaches, especially migraines and tension headaches.

Your doctor recommends ice packs for 15 minutes at a time, and you can repeat this treatment several times a day. Make sure to separate the skin from the ice pack or ice pack with a cloth or towel during use.

Preventing headaches requires getting enough sleep, exercising, staying hydrated, avoiding triggers, and promoting relaxation, among other strategies.

VigorTip words

When it comes to headache management, the more relief you have at your disposal, the better off your situation will be. Using ice packs and other prevention strategies and treatments can help you get out of pain and get back on track. If you have severe or frequent headaches, be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider what you can do.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When treating a headache, is it better to apply heat or ice?

    Both heat and ice can relieve headaches, and personal preferences vary. But overall, migraine sufferers preferred cold therapy, while tension headache sufferers preferred heating pads. As with many aspects of headache management, you must see what works best for you.

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  • How to get rid of headache fast?

    The correct course of treatment depends on the type of headache that has started. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil or Motrin are usually recommended first. More severe headache cases, such as migraines, may require other types of medications, including triptans, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors, or antiemetics (antiemetics).

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  • What are the best home remedies for headaches?

    Besides medication, there are many things you can do for headaches at home:

    • drinking water
    • Use a heating pad or ice pack on the head
    • Find a dark, quiet place to rest
    • sleep for a while
    • caffeine intake (in some cases)

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