What’s Your Secret:  Cold or Hot Therapy?

Many migraineurs are drawn to extreme temperature remedies for relief of pain. A heating pad or a cold compress can make all the difference when we are seeking comfort. In this video, we discuss a few options on the market for ice and cold relief.


Please join the conversation and share your secrets for using cold or hot therapy in the comment section below. We are here to learn from one another so don’t keep your strategies to yourself!

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26 comments on “What’s Your Secret:  Cold or Hot Therapy?

  1. GAinPA says:

    My go to emergency kit at work: 1) sunglasses 2) for heat: ceramic mug filled with microwaved water. Wrapped napkin around it and held it in back of my ear along my neck, the inside of my cheek against my nose at an angle. 3) For cold: can of caffeinated soda fresh from the vending machine. Same pattern: back of the ear, front of the ear, along the inside of the cheekbone along my nose. As the can lost it’s chill, I would pop the tab and drink the soda with whatever pain pill I was using at the time. At home: Large round, glass jars (like Gulden’s mustard) with an indented base were perfect to hold against my cheek under the eye with the indented base against my cheek bone.

  2. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    @gainpa– i LOVE these DIY solutions for hot and cold therapies. Your solutions can be found in most office complexes- or out and about so can be used by any of us in a pinch should we be caught off guard by pain and in need of some relief. You are wonderful to share these great ideas with the rest of us! Thank you so much! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  3. Elle says:

    I like a bit of both.I always keep a couple of cheap packs of frozen peas in freezer,(peas are a good size and mould well around your head). I don’t find anything else is cold enough. When one starts to melt too much I refreeze and replace with the other. It can feel a bit unleasant if it starts dripping down your face but to be honest I never care because the relief it provides is worth it. I usually get about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before it defrosts too much depending on size of bag.I often use this with microwave heated bean bag round neck. Then get under the duvet find a comfortable position and leave the window wide open if you can for fresh air even in winter.

  4. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi @elfie– Thanks so much for sharing your unique approach that combines heat and cold. I’m not sure if you watched the video above, but in it, It shows these little mini-pillow cases made out of fabric that I use to hold my ice packs so they don’t get drippy. I found them at my chiropractor, but if you’re handy, you could probably make them yourself- or you could just wrap the peas in a fabric napkin. Of course, then you lessen the nice freezing cold temperature of said peas! Just a thought. I like your ideas very much- I use the duvet + open window approach regularly. So glad you shared! Thanks again! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  5. griff says:

    I have a lrg rectangular ice pak……I can wrap my head from my eyebrows around sides and down to neck……drop my head into soft pillow that holds pak against my head…….though my attacks are more left sided this whole head ice pak works for the worst of the worst.

  6. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi there, @griff – Sounds like a wonderful resource– do you remember where you found such a large one? I’d like to get a bigger one than the ones I have (which are probably 10 inches in length by 5 inches tall). Thanks in advance for any tips you can offer. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  7. Carolelaine says:

    An ice cap oh my head and an ice ball at the base of my skull. the ice ball is made from a mold (they are used for “on the rocks” drinks) is my go to. I also use heat on my neck and shoulders. It’s not unusual to find me with my head wrapped in ice and a heating pack on my shoulders at the same time. My favorite thing to do, is to fill my antique claw foot bath tub with water as hot as I can stand and rest my neck and the base of my head on the cool, curved rim of the tub. unfortunately, I can’t live in the bath.

  8. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    @carolelaine– Thanks so much for sharing your unique approach. I must admit, it sounds quite appealing. One of my migraine friends swears by the combination of a heating pad on the base of her spine and an ice pack on the base of her skull. I like the sound of the full immersion in the hot bath- with the neck/head having the ice experience. Nice! Thanks again! Great to learn from one another! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  9. vsurdel says:

    I’ve found that if I can stand without vomiting, a really hot shower with a massaging showerhead helps relax the tension in my head, neck and back muscles. That relieves one part of the pain. I considered a Jacuzzi for neck massage, but couldn’t find one that was for less than six people. The shower helps even better cause I can do my scalp without drowning.

  10. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    @vsurdel – yes- please, don’t drown! The massaging shower head sounds like a much safer alternative and a great way to get those muscles to unwind. Medical supply stores sell shower-safe seats/stools, in case the standing up thing was exacerbating the nausea/vomiting side effect. Thanks for sharing what works for you- that’s a new idea that might work well for others as well! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  11. Casper6 says:

    Heat works best for me. I will sleep with a heating pad on my head, if I have a bad headache. Then when I wake up during the night I shut if off, when it’s gone. I also have bad neck issues, so I have another type of heating pad that will curve around my neck, but shuts off after about 30 mins. I also use bags I heat up in microwave and wrap around my neck and go on with my work at home. I even have some small gel packs that will get hot and put them inside my baseball hat to get some relief. I have used capazin, and other like it for heat at my temples and back of neck. It does help.

  12. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    @casper6 – This is fascinating and thank you for providing your insights and information as to what helps you in relation to using heat for Migraine. I am most interested in the way that for some it is heat all the way and for others it is cold. It certainly makes me wonder why this if the case. It would be interesting to get the insight of a migraine specialist on this issue. You have certainly been resourceful in creating many different ways to effectively apply heat to your neck and head. Thanks again for sharing them with the community. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  13. yhf22y says:

    I’ve found the IceKap, a woman in Canada created it. I keep the hat in the fridge and it is than not hard as rocks and it stays cool for 30-45 minutes. I then usually put it in the freezer for an hour or so and put it on when I go to sleep. That is what I like about the icekap, it is easy to sleep in. And it is slightly adjustable, so I can put more pressure around my head on days I want that or it is looser on those days I can’t hardly have any pressure. It has 4 ice packs in it, one on top of your head and one that goes on your neck and then the sides. And it has a ponytail hole so you can get your hair out of your way. https://www.icekap.ca/ or amazon has it also. I have the original icekap but have been thinking of getting the updated version.

  14. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    @yhf22y– I can’t thank you enough for this in-depth description of the icekap! This is the level of insight I’ve been seeking. I can’t quite parse apart the difference between the icekap and the migraine hat. Something that goes down onto the neck is of utmost importance to me and something that is soft is also key. It sounds like it has the capacity to get hard as rocks if it is kept in the freezer too long, though? I wish these things were made of gel packs that never get rock hard. I will continue to do some more research but your insights were incredibly helpful. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with the rest of us! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  15. JanetH says:

    For years I used a rice pack (a kneesock stuffed with a pound of rice and microwaved). I still do, but since I’m now post-menopausal, at times cold feels better than heat, especially in the warm months. I’ve had to throw off heat packs because of hot flashes. OTOH, if my body feels cold, I don’t want to start with ice.

  16. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi @JanetH– Thanks so much for sharing what has worked for you in relation to hot/cold therapy. The rice kneesock is a nice idea and sounds like it could be easily homemade. Our bodies, and what they need/how they respond certainly does change over time and with hormonal shifts. I can imagine during a hot flash, the last thing one would want is more heat! Again, thanks for sharing and stay in touch! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  17. pwrnapper says:

    As a 14 year Chronic Cluster Headache sufferer I’ve learned how to reduce or abort not only the number but intensity of my disabling attacks using hot and cold. Mine CH starts in the right side of my neck, muscles go into spasm pressing on bone spurs near the nerves that connect to my Trigeminal Nerve cluster. Starts with a small “knot” type spasm at first, right below my right ear, and then moves across and up the neck toward the spine and then WHAM, all HELL breaks loose, full brown CH. If I can catch this process early a hot neck pillow (https://shopbodysense.com/collections/all-1/products/neckease), which is the best one on the market my opinion, that I warm in the microwave at home and work does the trick to reduce the muscle spasm. However once the actual CH starts the hot pillow increases the pain and discomfort. I then switch to a icy cold neck pillow, that I keep in the freezer both at home and work, while lying face down, head slightly bent forward, directly in the tense spots on my neck and bending it across my face, jaw and temple. The amount of time needed for either hot or cold depends on the level of spasm and pain I experience at the moment. When I am away from home and don’t have my pillows available I use one of those chemical cold packs (Dynarex Instant Cold Pack) purchased through Amazon. It works because of a chemical reaction, squeeze it and break the chemical packages inside and it turns cold almost instantly and lasts about 15-20 minutes. There are many types of these on the market but most are terrible and just don’t work. My PM doctor gave me one of these years ago and because it worked so much better I ordered a supply for myself. The combination of either hot or cold neck pillows or this Cold Pack have been a real lifesaver throughout the years. If I can stop the CH early before a full attack happens has really helped me cope with these miserable headaches. Hope these products help you too.

  18. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi @pwrnapper – Thank you so much for offering your solutions to migraine (specifically chronic cluster migraine) using hot/cold therapy along with the links to that which you have found effective. You are so right that the timing is absolutely key as to when to employ which therapy. One of my favorite fellow migraineurs swears by using a heating pad on the base of her spine at the same time as using an ice pack on the base of her skull. Something about the combination of the two extremes in the two different locations works for her. I’m grateful that we are all sharing these different ideas in the hopes that others will find relief from the solutions offered here. Very warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  19. cyrynda1 says:

    At home I literally pack my head and neck in ice. I wrap my head in my Migraine Hat (available on Amazon or at http://www.migrainehat.com), and pile ice packs around all the spaces the Hat doesn’t cover. If I’m going anywhere and I’m going to be out for more than half a day I actually carry a small cooler with my Migraine Hat and its ice packs with me. I wouldn’t be caught without it!

  20. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    cyrynda1- YAY – I’m SO glad that someone with migraine hat experience has written in! I’ve really wanted to ask and learn about this before buying one. Is it soft or hard ice? Like is the hat squishy and soft or hard, like a bunch of ice cubes?? Does it go down the back of your neck at all? Would be grateful for any more information you’d be willing to offer! Thanks!! Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  21. Laney84 says:

    I could not survive without my cold masks and cold Magic Bags (I store them in the freezer for when I have a migraine come on suddenly). I especially love the Magic Bags as they have some weight to them and the pressure on my head combined with the cold really helps – and it blocks light when I have it across my eyes :). I find heat only helpful for me at the beginning of a migraine when the pain is less – I try to take a hot shower or sometimes I will microwave my Magic bag so it is hot/warm and put it across my neck. Magic Bag is a Canadian product but I’m sure there is something similar available elsewhere. Hope this helps someone else dealing with the pain!

  22. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hi Laney84- I’m so psyched to learn of something new! Magic Bags, huh? I’ll look these up right away and hope they are available in the US. Are they soft or hard like ice cubes? For me, I’ve experienced a number of these solutions are hard as rocks and not at all what i want to put against my head, or lay against on my neck during a migraine. Thanks so much for offering your insights/solution. Warmly (or in this case, cooly), Holly B. (migraine.com team).

  23. Ronan says:

    For low-grade pain, I use Tiger Balm. It turns cold and is soothing. At home, I microwave a beanbag for about 5 minutes. The combination of heat and the pressure of the beanbag on my neck and shoulders seems to help. I haven’t found anything I can take on the go yet for heat purposes. I’d be interested to know what others do.

  24. Kyky Knight moderator says:

    Hi Ronan,

    Thanks for sharing! I tend to use different therapies on different days, but mostly gravitate towards warm temperatures as I find them to help relax tension. Sometimes I massage my temples under a warm shower if I am at home and can rally the energy to shower. I haven’t found anything for on the go that works well for me quite yet, thanks for the tip!

  25. Holly Baddour moderator author says:

    Hey @ronan – Good to hear from you! I don’t know if you ever follow our facebook page, but when we released this article there earlier this week, several people listed on-the-go hot therapies- I believe one of them was called Capzasin (seems like it’s a cream of some sort). https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10215385728866843&set=p.10215385728866843&type=3&theater You might want to check out the whole comment section that followed that article to get all the ideas. Hope that helps. Warmly, Holly B. (migraine.com team).

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