Will Soaking Your Feet in Hot Water Relieve a Migraine?

You’ve probably seen that photo on social media. It depicts a woman sitting on a counter with her feet soaking in the sink basin and an ice pack on the back of her head. The photo claims that soaking your feet in hot water while using an ice pack on your head will relieve the pain of a migraine attack.

A misleading image

Every time I see that image, I cringe. The comments alone drive me crazy. Too many people take the image literally and make comments about their inability to perch on the edge of the sink. I want to scream, “That’s not the freaking point!” but truthfully, no one is listening.

I’ve lost count of the number of images, memes, articles, and helpful tips I’ve been sent by well-meaning loved ones. They really do want to help me, so I try to be gracious. I try to educate them, too. Most of the time my words fall on deaf ears, but once in a while, someone will actually pay attention. It is because of these rare moments that I still make an effort. So, back to the topic at hand.

Can this trick really help?

I had a chiropractor suggest something similar many years ago. Frankly, it was the only helpful thing he offered. His version included wrapping my feet in a heating pad while lying down with an ice pack on my head. I can’t explain why it helped, but it did. The attack was not aborted, but the pain did ease up. Since that first attempt, I have always included this strategy as a comfort measure.

When to use this strategy

There are two times when I make use of comfort measures. First, I will use these strategies at the first sign of trouble. Most often, I will grab a wearable ice pack moments before I take one of my triptans to abort the attack. The cold eases my symptoms while I wait for the medicine to do its job. Second, on the rare occasion that acute treatment fails to abort the attack, I will use comfort measures to help me cope with symptoms until the attack subsides. The longer the attack, the more strategies I will use.

Other migraine coping tools

  • Ice packs
  • Heating pads
  • Counter pressure
  • Aromatherapy
  • Ginger or peppermint tea
  • Pain relieving ointments
  • TENS units
  • Sleep masks
  • Ear plugs
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Tinted glasses

Measure expectations

A comfort measure will not abort the neurological processes we call a migraine attack. Sometimes we get lucky and a comfort measure will actually eliminate a symptom (like pain or nausea). That alone can make us feel much better. It’s worth building a toolkit full of such options and keeping it close at all times. It’s good to start by thinking about all the times you’ve had a migraine attack. What did you crave? What was readily available and what was hard to find? If wrapping your feet in a heating pad or soaking them in hot water helps, then make sure to include that heating pad in your toolkit. Just don’t expect it to get rid of the attack entirely.

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