Six Tips for Showering During a Migraine Attack

Reader favoriteDuring prodrome and the pain phase of a migraine, I avoid showering because it wears me out and ratchets up the pain. Combine a couple (or more) days of not showering with the migraine symptom of night sweats, and I feel disgusting. Luckily, my plentiful experience, which has left collapsed on the shower floor innumerable times, has taught me some excellent strategies for getting clean when I’ve reached my limit of grime.

  1. Only make the water as hot as you need to be comfortable. Too hot and it will make your head pound (unless you’re one of those lucky people whose migraines are relieved by hot water). Too cold and your muscles will tense up, potentially worsening the attack.
  2. Try a Navy shower. Turn the water off after you get wet, soap up, then turn the water back on to rinse off. Not ideal in the winter, but this works great in summer.
  3. Spend less time under the water by using soap only on the stinky bits. Water is enough to clean all but your underarms, feet and genitals. (Do a search for it if you don’t believe me. Some people don’t use soap at all.) An added bonus is that your skin won’t be as dry if you don’t soap it, so you might be able to skip the energy-intensive step of lotion.
  4. A cool rinse at the end of your shower can help revive you. Just not so cold that your muscles rebel.
  5. Skip the shower and clean up in a shallow bath. Again, you don’t want the water too hot. The benefit of a bath is that you can sit down while cleaning yourself. If you’re grossed out by the idea of not rinsing, just do a quick rinse under the shower when you’re finished.
  6. If you are sensitive to odors and your water source is chlorinated (most cities and towns chlorinate their water to some degree), get a chlorine filter for your shower head. They cost anywhere from $15 to $40 and you’ll spend $10 to $15 on a replacement filer about once a year, depending on how frequently you use it. A chlorine filter will also make your skin less dry.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (44)
  • Sandy
    4 years ago

    thank you for all of your comments. this website has become my support group. i do not have a support group local. suffered migraines 15 yrs and now chronic. i feel so normal thanks to you all.

  • Sandy
    4 years ago

    thank you. finally someone that understands hot water increases the pounding and cold water and packs makes piercing feelings. none of my friends and family understands and thinks i am crazy

  • Dori Fritzinger
    6 years ago

    I love this article – since my migraines can cause seizures I can totally relate to this. I too have woken up in the bottom of the tub wondering why I am out in the rain. Fortunately I have not gotten seriously hurt. Stinky is gross, but a broken hip or other bones is worse. – Dori F.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    Absolutely! It must be terrifying to wake up on the floor of the shower. I’m so glad you’ve not gotten seriously hurt.

  • B. Morebello
    6 years ago

    Great tips! I do the same things. When I’m really hurting and need to shower, I just sit in the tub/bottom of the shower (either under the water if I can handle it or just near it) and keep my shampoo bar and body bar within reach and wash up while sitting in the tub, then stand up to rinse off quickly. It helps when I’m exhausted and too dizzy to stand in one place for more than a few seconds.

    I’ve been trying a new body oil wash from Village Naturals. It’s their aches and pain remedy and I really like it. I usually lather up my joints and aching muscles and soak/run hot water as much as I can stand. The spearmint smell is very strong and helps when I’m nauseous too. You can buy it here, I really recommend it and the 16oz bottle lasts a while, you only need to use a small amount: http://www.amazon.com/Village-Naturals-Therapy-Foaming-Aches/dp/B0034ZGZR0/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1372353754&sr=8-3&keywords=village+naturals+therapy+aches

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    Good suggestions. And thanks for sharing the body wash information — it sounds wonderful!

  • astrosdiva
    6 years ago

    Thank you, Kerrie. I’m so relieved to know I’m not the only person who doesn’t always bother to use soap on arms and legs. I never think of my limbs as “dirty.”

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    That advice actually came from a dermatologist who said that the only thing that soaping your limbs and torso does is dry out your skin!

  • kristisprague
    6 years ago

    Thanks for writing on this topic, Kerrie! Also, a big thanks to all who have left such helpful comments. Some things that have helped me:
    1. Wearing my hair really, really short! It’s still stylish and so easy to care for.
    2. Turn up the heat for 20 minutes in the winter and take a Bonner’s Soap Bath in the bathroom sink. I like the Lavendar soap. You massage your whole body with a few drops of Bonner’s soap and water, even your head. Then repeat with clean water. So refreshing, cleansing…even cleans my hair for an extra day. Turn the house heat when finished.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    Great tips. I’m a fan of short hair, though it can be tough to keep up with the monthly haircut maintenance. And I love Dr. Bronners, too!

  • CarolineSwing
    6 years ago

    Kerrie,

    I’m very similar to you. I start with lukewarm water and end with cool, but not cold water. I’m going to try your Navy shower idea and see if it helps; at a minimum it will help me feel good to conserve water, lol. I recommend a radiant heater for your bathroom; it might make life more bearable on those cold winter nights.

    For me, it isn’t just basic cleaning it’s about washing my hair; just the thought of the water beating on my head can reduce me to tears. I have to kind of gear myself up for hours before I can put my head under the shower and sometimes I still can’t do it. I can only handle putting my head under the water about once a week, maybe twice in a good week. I’ve tried several different types of shower heads, but most still hurt. It also takes me ages to get all the shampoo and conditioner out even though I use very little and that doesn’t help. Like others have said, the whole experience is exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally.

    Thank you everyone for sharing. Logically, I knew I probably wasn’t alone in hating, almost fearing a shower some days; but it’s nice to hear other people’s stories too and know that I’m not alone. 🙂

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    You are definitely not alone! Thanks for sharing your experience as well.

  • B. Morebello
    6 years ago

    I’ve found that the water pressure isn’t so strong when you sit in the tub/bottom of the shower. When I’m really hurting, I just sit in my tub inch my way into the stream of water.

  • simplygourdjus
    6 years ago

    Such a wonderful article! I’ve had problems with showering also! I thought I was alone…..and I’ve Never told my Doctor. I’ve gotten so dizzy or aura or just cried as the water touched my scalp & then having to shampoo it?? OMG!
    Also, Shaving my legs!!?? Up & down motions?? No Way! I’m 5’9″ LONG LEGS! Instead of the shower shaving, I went and bought a men’s electric face shaver/trimming kit. That works Great!

    Thanks so much for all of your suggestions!
    The reply comments have helped me too! 🙂

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    You’re definitely not alone. It might be worth telling your doctor — it would be good for them to know that you’re so sensitive. It’s actually a well-documented migraine symptom called allodynia.

    I, too, use an electric shaver (when I can be bothered to shave my legs). It isn’t as clean of a shave, but is better than nothing!

  • not so joy
    6 years ago

    There are also bathing wipes you can purchase in medical supply shops or online. They are disposable, can be heated if desired and are as big as non-disposable wash cloths. You can find them in unscented and/or hypoallergenic.
    I’ve used them in bed when I can’t stand myself, but I couldn’t get out of bed either (took awhile cause the body was heavy, but I no longer stunk & my hubby brought me fresh jammies).

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    Great suggestion! Sounds a lot better than using baby wipes, which always leave me feeling sticky.

  • Teri-Robert
    6 years ago

    Great idea, Joy! Thanks for sharing it.
    Teri

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    6 years ago

    It never ceases to amaze me how we can all have the same disease, yet it affects us in so many different ways!

    When things are their worst for me, that’s when I crawl into the hottest shower I can stand. We bought a white plastic lawn chair that fits inside the tub and allows me to sit as the water hits my head and body. We also changed out our normal shower head for the “rain type” head that gently showers you with droplets. They’re large and don’t allow a lot of pressure which makes it much easier for me. When it comes to rinsing off shampoo, it takes longer and can be a little frustrating, but I’ll take that trade-off of the pain relief when I need it for my Migraines. I am a heat girl though… the hotter, the better. I think it works mostly as distraction from my pain than anything else… but I am not one to argue with success. Whatever works, go for it.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    I think of you all as the lucky ones! I agree that it is amazing how migraine affects us all so differently. That one thing can give one person immense relief and another severe exacerbation of their symptoms is astonishing to me.

  • shine4him
    6 years ago

    I’m the same way, Ellen. I LOVE a hot shower when I have a migraine. It’s just the effort involved in getting out of bed and standing up that long that’s a challenge. Maybe I’ll try your plastic chair idea.

  • kateymac
    6 years ago

    Kerrie – I am so relieved to see someone write about this. I can see why showering might be helpful to some people during migraine, but ever since my migraines transitioned to the chronic daily thing, it usually feels impossible. QUITE often, I have to choose between showering and, well, anything else I might feel able to do on any given day. — If I need groceries, for example, gotta skip the shower or I won’t make it, and then – no food.

    Chronic Migraine leaves me so weak and fatigued, seemingly more so with each passing year, that it takes all my strength to shampoo my hair, and the towel feels like it weighs a hundred pounds as I dry off. I need to rest again before getting dressed. I’m not exaggerating even a little.

    I like your suggestions. They’re concrete and straightforward, good ideas with your usual good humor mixed in. I always need ideas AND laughs, so thanks for being bold enough to get real. Showers are just one of the many activities that my migraines interfere with, but to me, it’s a big one. People don’t understand: “What?
    A SHOWER? But that’s so RELAXING!”, like they can will me back to normalcy by telling me so. Ugh.

    Thanks, Kerrie. -Kate

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    Thanks for the kind words. Love the idea that people can will you (or any us) back to normalcy just by pointing out how unusual our experience is!

  • Dori Fritzinger
    6 years ago

    Kerrie and Kate: I agree – We have been taught not to talk about “private” “bathroom” things. Migraines change that – let’s be real! My migraines can cause incontinence – talk about getting real – my husband has become a very good “personal” caretaker – sponge baths, cleaner of accidents (including changing of beds), changing “blue” pads and adult diapers.

  • Dori Fritzinger
    6 years ago

    Been there done that – Sometimes it comes down to a trade off – Dori F.

  • simplygourdjus
    6 years ago

    I agree! I have problems with showering also.

  • muoshoo
    6 years ago

    This article was probably helpful for some people, but I notice what helps for me is a warm shower with a massaging shower head pulsating on the painful areas and neck areas, and the warmer the better, but not too hot.

    I also found the short showers, and odor suggestions silly too, but that is just my opinion.

  • Dori Fritzinger
    6 years ago

    I can not even stand the sound of the water in a shower when I have a migraine – We are all different. Dori F

  • Diana-Lee
    6 years ago

    This article was most definitely helpful for me, and I certainly appreciated your willingness to share your experience at the beginning of your comment.

    I was disheartened, however, to see you refer to some of the tips as “silly”. Not only is such a comment unnecessarily negative, any advice that helps another Migraineur can hardly be fairly considered silly.

  • Teri-Robert
    6 years ago

    Michelle,

    Nothing fits everyone. Some people are like you – those massaging shower heads give them great comfort. Others are like Kerrie and me – they make us feel worse. When I have a Migraine, I can’t even stand to brush my hair, let alone stand under one of those shower heads. I have one, and when I don’t have a Migraine, I dearly love it. As for odors, they can be huge triggers for some of us and, when we have a Migraine, the lightest odors send us scurrying to the toilet bowel, gagging all the way.

    Silly? Hardly. Those suggestions just don’t apply to you.

  • BethBlue
    6 years ago

    Showers are my salvation — maybe I’m the exception. It’s a chore to get myself in, and I have to lay down before I can summon the energy to get there, but it’s a worthwhile trip. I find the water to be a soothing experience and probably the only thing to quell the pain. Yes, I feel guilty for staying in so long and pumping up the water bill, but it is truly the best way to “center” me (and my husband understands). Once I have to step out, the hell returns.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    I’m so glad they help you. Some migraineurs find tremendous relief from hot showers, others can’t stand the thought. So strange how differently this illness affects all of us.

  • L. Kersten
    6 years ago

    During a migraine atack I’m too sick to worry about taking showers. Only in the third phase a shower makes me feel a little bit better.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    It’s all a balancing act depending on how frequent and severe the migraine attacks are. When my migraines were at their worst and I could only shower once a week, I craved that sense of normalcy showering provided.

  • Beverly Militello
    6 years ago

    Thank you for writing this article. I thought I was getting seriously ill because of not being able to tolerate taking showers anymore when I was suffering with my Migraines. It’s a relief to find out that I’m not the only one with severe migraines who have to “deal” with this.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    You’re welcome. This is, unfortunately, yet another of the effects of migraine that seem so strange to someone without firsthand knowledge of how debilitating migraine attacks can be.

  • TNmigGal
    6 years ago

    I have bought a shower stool that I now use – especially when a migraine has ‘zapped’ my strength or my balance is a little off during an attack and I still want to take a shower. My bathroom doesn’t have a full bathtub, just a nice size shower stall, so using the shower stool allows me to take showers while still not expending too much energy. I also have a shower head that is removable (on a hose) and this works well with the stool. Another tip – I have noticed a lot of new ‘dry’ shampoos lately. You spray them in your hair and then brush out. This can buy you time until the next shower as well, especially if you tend to have oily hair. I try and keep my routine and products simple (very sensitive to smells) and have found that using hypoallergenic baby wipes to clean my face and other areas that may build up sweat works well in between showers and can be refreshing.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    Great suggestions! Thanks for sharing.

  • Dori Fritzinger
    6 years ago

    I have some rise-free wash that the hospital gave men. My pharmacist orders it for me. I also use the dry shampoo. I have hair that is waist long – so I swear by the style of a long braid.

  • shine4him
    6 years ago

    Great ideas. I will also add, if you have an aversion to dry shampoos for any reason, baby powder does the same thing (It’s often the main ingredient in dry shampoos, and much cheaper). Just another option. I use it often!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi TNimgGal,

    Thank you so much for sharing your tricks and tips with us, they are truly wonderful.

    I too have recently found dry shampoos and find them to be very helpful.

    Nancy

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