Hot or Cold Therapy for Migraine Pain

So, your migraines have been causing ear shattering pain and you’re looking for a way to get some fast relief? Heat/cold therapy is an option touted by many migraineurs to treat migraine pain.

Heat Therapy for Head Pain

Heat therapy is often called thermotherapy. Heat alleviates migraine pain by relaxing the muscles and stimulating oxygen/blood flow to the affected area. Experts and veteran migraineurs alike recommend using moist heat, like a warm bath or damp towel, because water is a powerful conductor of heat. The moisture helps tissues loosen by increasing blood circulation. To experience the benefits of thermotherapy, try using:

  • Paraffin bath
  • Warm shower or bath
  • Sauna
  • Hot tub
  • Moist heat pad

Heat therapy works best on chronic pain. When an area goes through constant trauma, blood and oxygen flow weakens in the area, which intensifies the pain. Thermotherapy is one of the ways migraineurs can manage their chronic pain.  But not everyone will prefer heat.

Cold Therapy for Head Pain

Cold Therapy (cryotherapy) is the opposite of thermotherapy. I know that’s kind of obvious, but cold therapy doesn’t loosen body tissues or increase blood flow. It numbs body tissues and lessens inflammation. Cold pressure causes your blood vessels to constrict which reduces swelling. Cryotherapy is used to treat fresh injuries. Although a migraine isn’t an “injury” per se, cold therapy, in conjunction with heat therapy, can be used to help alleviate some of the pain of the migraine.

Experts know that cold therapy relieves vascular headaches, another term for migraines. Vascular headaches are caused by issues with the vascular system, i.e., blood vessels.Patients with high blood pressure may suffer from them. Cluster headaches are a series of vascular headaches that occur over an extended period, like a week or month. When these headaches attack, patients feel:

  • Blurred or distorted vision
  • Trouble with bright lights
  • Nausea

Just like heat, cold therapy works well with water. Running cool water over your head might sound crazy, but it may relieve your migraine. Flowing water creates a cooling sensation that soothes tension headaches. To get the cooling sensation, try:

  • Ice pack
  • Gel cap
  • Cold compress
  • Cool shower


Side Effects

Although mild, there are some things to look out for when trying thermotherapy and cryotherapy.

  • Be mindful of your body’s reaction to cold temperatures. If you experience an acute sensitivity to cold or major drops in your body temperature, cryotherapy may not be for you.
  • Likewise, when starting thermotherapy, make sure that the heating pad, water, etc. isn’t too hot or it can cause burns. You already have one problem, you don’t want another one.


Combining Both Therapies

There is nothing wrong with trying both treatments at the same time. These therapies are noninvasive and non-addictive, so they’re  safe when done in moderation. For some patients, combining both therapies eases the tension and aches. You may try alternating a heating pad with an ice pack or take a cool shower and then soak in a warm bath. No matter what you choose, it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting treatments.

The good thing about heat and cold therapy is that you don’t have to go to the doctor’s office to try them.You can do them at home. Most of the needed products are available at your local grocer or health food store.


  1. ComHeat Therapy and Cold Therapy
  2. Excedrin – Ice Pack for Migraine
  3. Everyday Health
  4. WebMD Cluster Headaches
  5. Everyday Health New Device for Chronic Pain
  6. BBC Homeostasis
  7. Stanford Healthcare Vascular Headaches