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Drilling a Hole in Your Skull for Migraine Relief

Have you ever wanted to drill a hole in your head to reduce your migraine pain? You’re not the first to think of this technique – trepanation, the official term for drilling a hole in one’s head for relief from brain-related diseases, has been used as a migraine treatment throughout history, with evidence of it’s use even found in prehistoric cave paintings. It was thought to be effective by either reliving pressure around the brain or releasing evil spirits.

In case you’re considering it, please know there’s absolutely no evidence supporting trepanation as a migraine treatment. During a migraine attack, it may feel like the pressure is too high in your skull or that your brain is pushing against your skull, but neither of those things are genuinely happening. There is no physiological change to the actual pressure within your skull. And, of course, while migraine may seem like evil spirits infesting your brain, that’s not happening either. So, in addition to being phenomenally unsafe, trepanation won’t even do anything to relieve migraine.

I conceived of this post as a way to share a bit of history and make a joke about drilling a hole in your head as a way to relieve migraine pain while simultaneously creating a great Halloween costume. Reading about the procedure quickly made me realize that trepanation is nothing to joke about. There are people and even an international organization promoting the use of trepanation for improving brain function and achieving higher consciousness. I’m scared to find out for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find DIY trepanation instructions on the internet.

What started out as a joke has me really weirded out. I’m pretty sure you all know trepanation is only a migraineur’s daydream when we’re desperate for relief. I don’t want to insult anyone by assuming you’d actually drill a hole in your head. Still, the desperation for migraine relief is unbelievably powerful (I’ve proven this to myself time and again, most recently by malnourishing myself for months). In those moments when it seems like every other treatment has failed and a person is nearly delirious with pain, I could see trepanation appearing to be an almost reasonable option. Just to be clear, it’s not.

Trepanation: Don’t try this at home!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.



  • Pamela
    5 years ago

    I’ve never thought about having a hole drilled into my skull for relief; however, I always want to twist my head off to reset it. In every migraine, neck pain and stiffness always precede the pain phase. I always know pain is going to hit when this symptom arrives. I have the sensation that if I could just readjust my skull at the base, the pressure would go away. In the past, I’ve used chiropractics and every time I had a migraine, my chiropractor would be unable to adjust my neck, as it was so stiff.

  • joclaire
    5 years ago

    I have indeed imagined that many many times. In a similar vein I also almost fantasise about cutting my stomach open to relieve the pain when I have ‘monthly’ pain!

  • TheKimberly75
    6 years ago

    “Be careful what you wish for!”
    Twenty years ago when I was self-injecting (IM) medications I would be asked how I could handle all those needles, and I would reply, “Listen, I’d take a shot in the brain pan if it helped my migraine pain!”, and I meant it! Lo and behold in the ’90’s Botox for migraine came along and I found myself in the chair having some thirty plus injections pumped into my head! Unfortunately, Botox did not work for me at all then and when I was urged to try again this year I did so twice and found myself among the 9% who experience Severe neck pain and stiffness – but still no migraine relief! I’ve always had neck pain associated with my migraines (in fact, the base of my scull/neck is where they mostly begin!) but Nothing could have prepared me for this! Even had the Botox worked for migraine I am not sure I could have endured the neck pain, it was that severe. There were many times a day when I needed to lie down as I could literally not hold my head up any longer. Then, I could not raise my head back up on my own and would need to lift my chin with my hand.
    So, always do your homework on any treatment but be careful what you wish for; it might bite back!

  • Marcus
    3 years ago

    Kimberly (I sure hope that’s your name; otherwise my apologies), bless you, BLESS you! I can’t believe I just read what you mentioned as a result of Botox: “severe neck pain and stiffness”! Exactly my experience. And the neurologist/Botox specialist left me feeling baffled that I could possibly have had that side effect! And his correcting strategy only made things worse!

    So very comforting to hear of a fellow sufferer. Though I hasten to add that is indeed the last thing I would have wished for you or ANYONE!!

    On the other hand, this neurologist did do one BIG FAVOR — he referred me to a pain management and migraine specialist. He suggested I probably have refractory migraines.
    I had Migraines since a kid, but when I turned 41 they became new daily chronic migraines — 22 years ago (still remember the very day it changed).
    I initially threw the book of all possible medical and non-traditional approaches at it.
    But eventually I had to accept this last doctor’s suggestion to treat the main symptoms, and make life tolerable, while still avoiding all known triggers. Meanwhile I continue to stay on top of whatever new strategies may come down the pike.

    Again, thank you for sharing your experience. And may you find grace and strength as you journey on.

  • Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel moderator
    6 years ago

    Kerrie ~ my paternal grandfather was trepanned for his severe migraines! Talk about family history. My mom’s father was in a mental institution for a while because of his. (The Ritalin is still sort of working for me btw, though I had to cut my dose in half due to side effects.) Hope you’re as well as any of us can expect ~ elizabeth

  • AmyBabee
    6 years ago

    Kerry, you are right. I have also tried hitting my head against the wall…you can imagine how that turned out; it made the pain unimaginable and worse than ever. I also tried bending over and shaking my head violently like a dog shaking water off its body…made my aura worse and felt dizzier and off course, fell down flat on my butt. I’ve never thought of trepanation though but have asked my Dr. to find a way to cut open my head to take out whoever/whatever is in there hammering away. I guess its the same thing…just find a way into the head to ease the pain when nothing seems to work….sigh 🙂 Would have been very funny if the pain we feel is not serious.

  • Sara
    5 years ago

    I’ve thought about this…also while hitting my head on the wall, which actually seems to help for me temporarily if I do it in the right place at the right time, and in the shower……can you tell I’ve tried this way too many times?! Seriously though, not even I would drill a hole in my head, although I did have a spinal tap done and found out I do have “high pressure” though I would imagine it doesn’t increase during a headache, it just is.

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