Patients often find relief from cold or hot therapy, often in the form of ice bags, heating pads and microwaveable or frozen gel packs. These can be expensive, and if you are caught with a Migraine away from your favorite hot or cold comfort item, you may suffer needlessly.
Here are a few recipes for making your own versions of these popular store items, but for a fraction of the cost and out of commonly available home items and supplies. Many of these can be used either frozen or warmed.
When using these, take care to protect your skin from heat and cold by insulating it with a paper towel or a dry wash rag between your skin and the cold/hot pack. You can also put them inside a clean pillowcase for insulation. Do not use these if you think you will fall asleep while they are on your skin. Although these are typically safer than electrical devices and ice, they can still cause tissue damage when a Migraineur has fallen asleep or is under the influence of powerful pain medications.
Sponge cold/warm pack
Purchase several cheap cellulose or natural sponges in various colors from the local dollar store. (No plastic sponges please!) Remove them from their packaging and soak them in water. Lightly wring them out so they’re no longer dripping, and freeze them. Put them inside zippered storage bags. You can also microwave these until they are warm and place them inside a towel for insulation (or steamer plastic bag), but take care not to over-microwave them. Different colors will help you cycle several throughout the day and be aware which is likely to be most cold when you need a new one.
Rice bag warm/cold pack
Whole rice, wheat, barley, corn, buckwheat or any other dried grain may be purchased from a grocery, bulk or feed store, then stuffed into a pre-sewn cotton package. Choose and sew the size and shape you like. Dark colors are easy on Migraining eyes. Some people like something shaped to drape over their shoulders. Others – a simple rectangular pillow. Others like a tube they can place in specific areas of their shoulders or neck. Horseshoe shapes are also popular, as are mask shapes that you can add elastic to for keeping them in place. Some lavender flowers or cloves may be included if you want to add some aromatherapy, but take care not to include too many that the smell becomes overwhelming. Even dried rose petals can be comforting for some patients. Pour the grain of choice into the pre-sewn package until it is about ½ to ¾ full, then close the end. When you want heat, place the bag into the microwave, 30 seconds at a time until it is heated just right. When you want it chilled, place it in the freezer for a couple of hours. Grains hold a small amount of moisture within them that is released when frozen or heated. These are easily molded to fit body contours and are soft and supple and very inexpensive. Not a seamstress? No worries. A high temp glue gun makes a great substitute for thread and a sewing machine, and is much faster and easier. Just be sure to press the material together tightly so the glue soaks into the material. Even something as simple as a sock will work for this. Just glue or knot the open end once it’s filled and you’re ready to go.
Homemade *gel* cold pack
Mix two parts water to one part rubbing alcohol, and pour the mixture into zippered freezer bags. Remove the air and freeze. This mixture will not freeze completely, making it similar to gel packs that can be purchased from drug stores, but much cheaper. I double bag mine to be sure there are no leaks. Remember to insulate your skin while using them.
Veggie cold pack
Bags of frozen vegetables make excellent cold packs in a pinch. Peas are our favorite because they are round, with no sharp corners that may puncture the bag of cause pressure points. Break up the frozen veggies in the bag before applying it to your head/neck area, as this makes the pack pliable and easy to mold to the contours of your body, lessening pressure points. Nearly everyone has frozen veggies in their freezer, making this perhaps the easiest trick of all. Don’t have an unopened bag of veggies in the freezer? No problem. Simply put them in a zippered freezer bag and remove the air.
Frozen/heated hand towels
Hand towels can be soaked in water and frozen or heated. For additional aromatherapy, consider adding a single drop of essence oil that is pleasing to you during your Migraines. Florals and peppermint tend to be relaxing to many people. Eucalyptus or mint tend to clear the sinuses. Citrus tends to invigorate. Put the frozen or heated towel inside a clean pillowcase, then place it wherever it is most comfortable. Even frozen towels quickly conform to your body contours, and they become comfortable pretty fast. I recommend using these only when you have a dry towel, bed cover or even a fresh plastic backed puppy pad you can lay on while using them. When the hand towel thaws or cools, it may drip and create a mess you don’t care about while Migraining, but may be sorry for after the attack has passed.
Water bottle pack
Some water bottles available in grocery stores are uniquely shaped and fit perfectly under the neck of a Migraineur. These can be lightly heated or frozen (with the lid removed), and actually have a pretty long life if the air is removed before they are used. Be sure the cap is on tightly when you use it, and put it inside a sock for insulation. Please don’t drink the water or re-use the bottle after it has been used for this purpose, as these bottles may leach phthalates or other chemicals into the water as a result of severe temperatures.
These are not my favorites, but I’ve used them in the past and they do work well. A little water put in a new disposable diaper and then frozen is nice because the diaper itself stays pretty flexible. The absorbent material turns to gel and isn’t even likely to leak if put into a zippered bag with the air removed. They actually stay cold for a fairly long time, and conform nicely to body contours, especially the face. In veterinary medicine we use these frequently by duct-taping them to limbs and other body parts as a poultice. While they make excellent hoof packs for an abscessed horse, I do NOT recommend heating these for human use, because heated plastic leaches harmful chemicals. Although heating it is physically possible, being poisoned by chemicals isn’t a very good trade-off for a few minutes of pain relief.