Treatment Experiences: Tiger Balm
By The Migraine Girl—July 10, 2012

As you can imagine, I’ve experimented with lots of typical and off-the-beaten-path treatments for my migraine disease since I started getting attacks when I was in middle school. Some have been total wastes of money; others I may not have tried long enough or consistently enough to really judge their merits.

One source of relief has been a steady player in my life since freshman year of college (1998), when my roommate P. let me try using some of her tiger balm on some sore muscles. Wowie.

Granted, tiger balm will not rid you of a migraine attack, nor has its benefits (or lack thereof) been tested in a key number of scientific, peer-reviewed studies. But, at least for me, it offers some relief during particularly bad headaches that are a part of my migraine disease.

My tiger balm jar is small—it can fit in my pocket (though somewhat uncomfortably), but usually it lives in my bedside drawer alongside my rarely-used sleep mask and my rarely-taken sleep aid pills (reserved for nights when my neighbors are partying and I need a solid 8+ hours). When I lie in bed suffering from migraine pain, I rub my finger in the jar and then put the ointment on my temples. Tiger balm is cooling and, at the very least, provides a sensation on the head that is markedly different from the migraine head pain. At minimum, it distracts me from the pain; at most, it provides tangible relief as I find myself breathing easier and able to move my focus away from the discomfort in my brain.

Have you ever used tiger balm on sore muscles or on your head and neck during a migraine episode? What have you discovered about its usefulness (or lack thereof)?

The purpose of the Treatment Series is to share personal experiences with migraine management techniques. Do not start, stop or change any treatment program without the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. For clinical data and safety information, please visit our Migraine Treatment pages.

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About The Migraine Girl

Bookshop owner & migraineur Janet "The Migraine Girl" Geddis moved around a bit in her early 20s before deciding to make Athens, Georgia her home

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18 comments on “Treatment Experiences: Tiger Balm

  1. Profile photo of marti marti says:

    I’ve been using Tiger Balm on the back of my neck during bad attacks. The cool-then warm-then cool again sensation helps a little. It takes the pain down a notch or so – and any relief is welcome.

  2. vickigewe says:

    The smell of menthol is too much for me and actually makes my migraine worse. Instead, I use the Well Patches, which were designed with migraines in mind and thus work well without the odor.

  3. I’ve also been using tiger balm for years and keep it by my bed. It certainly helps the migraine, especially while I’m waiting for the tablets to work. I’ve found out the hard way that it must b the white Tiger Balm. I bought the red one by mistake once and it burnt my skin. So be careful that you buy the right one if you’v not bought it before.
    If you suffer from TMJ or sinus headaches tiger balm is great too. I am at the stage where it seems that tiger balm is my only perfume :)
    But hey, who cares if it helps?

  4. I’ve used tiger balm, but found it made my head pain worse as it made my head feel even hotter. I have heard of a cooling tiger balm though but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere.

  5. I can’t use any of those products because I’m allergic to topical eucalyptis, and menthol. Has anyone tried Migraine Ice? It’s a patch you can put on your forehead or cut to place on your temple. Most drug stores don’t carry but then can order it. It’s made by Well Patch. It cools down the skin and it has lavender and rosemary in it that massage therapist’s put in their “Headache massage oil”

  6. Profile photo of khaug khaug says:

    When I get into a migraine, I get nasal stuffiness. I find when I use a Vick’s nasal inhalant, which does have some camphor and menthol in it, I believe, relieves my stuffiness and also helps to provide some additional help relieving my migraine:)

  7. So, now I’m ready to go buy some Tiger Balm!! My neck always hurts especially during a migraine. I do have a disc problem but nothing has helped. I do use a heating pad. Sometimes Voltaren cream works. It is a prescription medicine. Thanks for the tip!

  8. Profile photo of Tammy says:

    I love Tiger Balm but I have to be careful how much I use. It can leave red marks and some mild burning of the skin if I overdo it or use it on damp skin. I also use BioFreeze and have used HeadOn (not much help). Both BioFreeze and Tiger Balm are must-haves in my Migraine Kit that goes everywhere with me. I use them to get some early relief while I wait for my triptan to kick in. I also use them when dealing with a treatment resistant attack to ease my pain and provide relaxation.

  9. chriszahn says:

    Tiger Balm’s primary ingredient is camphor. For many it causes no issues, but homeopathically I am considered a prover with it, so it will knock out any other treatments I use. Also, while using it on other body parts (elbow, shoulders, head, etc.) it causes all of my extremeties to feel like they are freezing even though there’s never been any physical contact with the stuff. I found this out after using Biofreeze (pretty much same ingredients). When all else is lost I will dab a wee bit of Stopain (menthol only) onto my temple, and it gives just enough relief for me to function from the pain. It doesn’t help whatsoever is going on with what is happening inside my head. Just a reminder, even Tiger Balm is a medication… use wisely and with caution, if you start experiencing strange side effects, see your doctor and/or stop using the product. Although I’m not sure most GP’s, neurologists, will know exactly what is causing the dilemma. My primary is both at family physician and homeopath. He caught the description of the symptoms right away. I also cannot use chapstick, carmex or many of the lip products.

  10. Profile photo of nancynawn nancynawn says:

    My mother is from the Seychelles Islands and introduced me to tiger balm back in my teens 30+ years ago. That was how they treated headaches there. I like to spread it across my forehead and on my temples. I also have the tiger balm patch that I place on my neck to relieve pain when I have really bad migraines shooting up my neck. Both remedies serve as a temporary distraction until the meds begin to work.

  11. jenashley says:

    My grandmother gave me a little thing of Tiger Balm. She swears by it. I like it. It doesn’t take the migraine away, but it definitely dulls it and makes it easier to deal with. Anytime I hear anyone I know complain about it, I have them put some on their forehead.

  12. Profile photo of Janna Janna says:

    I like Tiger Balm, but I always want to put it over my entire head. I don’t, of course, but it almost a tease for relief. Still, it is worth having on hand. I’m still quite desperate for an effective treatment after suffering for 20 years. I would be grateful if anyone wants to share more non-prescription relief ideas. This is my first post and am excited to participate more.

  13. Profile photo of janenez janenez says:

    I think I will give Tiger Balm a try. I’m all for distraction. I notice no one leaving a comment here has a profile pic. The button to “choose an image” from my profile page is shaded out. Am I the only one with that issue? I’ve been too busy to post since they changed the comment procedure so I apologize if others have asked the same question.

  14. Profile photo of janenez janenez says:

    Oh, I got above email telling me that IPads don’t do uploads. Thanks!

  15. I use tiger balm a lot for my migraines. I keep the small jar by my bed and by my chair and for really rough days I get the liquid version. You can find it on amazon its amazing. I didn’t know anyone else that used this method and always felt like I was the only tiger balm smelly migraine sufferer out there lol.

  16. pburns81 says:

    I have never used Tiger Balm but am curious to try it now. HeadOn actually used to help a ton but it is impossible to get now. I use Aveda Blue Oil, BioFreeze or other similar products instead but will now add Tiger Balm to my lineup! The best part about HeadOn was that it didn’t smell too much so I could use it at the office (hated the commercials, loved the product)!

    Thanks for the tip!

  17. I have never tried tiger balm but I have stuff the chiroprator uses and that works great on the neck. I have also discovered an ice pack on the back of my neck helps relieve some migraine pain that I experience. Any little trick is better than none to any that suffer from migraines more than half the month.

  18. pizzlesticks says:

    i discoved tiger balm for migraines a few years ago during a severe attack. i had some on my fingers from rubbing it into my shoulder and i accidentally touched my temples.. it actually helped calm and relax me a little during the attack

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