Nothing gets you down like a migraine attack. The pain can be so debilitating that all you can do is curl up in a dark room and wait for it to pass. And while there are a variety of medications that can relieve pain and other migraine symptoms, they don’t work immediately. Therefore, it is not surprising that a number of home remedies and over-the-counter products have been suggested to help deal with the pain of migraines.
Of course, not all work immediately – or at all. If you’ve been let down by other migraine “miracle cures,” you might be feeling a little skeptical about TikTok’s latest viral migraine fix: hats that contain cold packs.
If we go by what’s popular on the internet, then the evidence for these cooling caps is strong. TikTokers like @chelseaaforrer (5,000 followers) and @jazzothezombie (17.6k followers) are racking up millions of views of videos in which they claim to take a nap while donning a freezing cap to ease the often excruciating pain the associated with a migraine attack.
@aheadaches (73.3K followers) – the official TikTok account for an ice pack brand – boasts in a video that the cold and heat therapy these caps provide can bring relief in minutes.
Of course, people (especially migraine sufferers) are fascinated. The hashtag #headachehat currently has over 40 million views and #migrainehat hits 9 million, begging the question: do cold caps really work? Here’s what the real experts have to say.
What is an ice pack hat?
Cold therapy hats don’t come with a lot of complex technology. Essentially, they’re just portable ice packs that you can freeze and slide onto your head when a migraine attack hits.
The first official headache hat was designed by Sherri Pulie in 2013. While most styles look like oversized headbands that you just slip over your ears, some are built to look like face masks and even baseball caps. Typically, only cooling therapy is provided (via ice packs placed to hit specific pressure points), but some brands (like Aheadaches) offer heating capabilities as well.
Some other cold cap brands to explore are Cryohelmet, TheraIce, Magicgel, Fit Geno, IceKap, ICE Down, IceBeanie, and ThermaZone.
What Experts Are Saying About Ice Pack Hats
Being able to put on a hat and have quick pain relief sounds incredible — but how legitimate are these claims?
Research on cold treatment for migraines is not extensive. One study found that applying a reusable, frozen gel pack reduced pain associated with migraine, cluster, and mixed headache types. In another study, using a gel cap that covered most of the skull reduced pain in people with migraines. And in a third study, simply applying pressure to the areas of the head with the most pain reduced pain during migraine attacks.
We asked some migraine experts to share their experiences and opinions with us.
Temporary pain relief
Samuel Kelokates, a physical therapist in Philadelphia who specializes in treating people with headaches and migraines, says there are two main reasons cryotherapy (the fancy word for medical cold therapy) works.
“Cold can cause vasoconstriction and reduce localized swelling around the head and face,” says Kelokates. “Ice can also have a local analgesic effect by decreasing nerve activity in the treated areas.”
Grace Song, Physical Therapist and Vestibular Therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, who has treated migraine sufferers for years, adds, “Cold therapy is a natural form of migraine relief that has been used for centuries. The most popular form of cold therapy for migraine relief is an ice pack, which lowers the temperature of the wearer’s head and helps relieve the pain associated with migraines.
“The cold temperature constricts blood vessels and may help reduce neurotransmission of pain to the brain. In a clinical setting, we sometimes use cold therapy (ice packs) along with other modalities and treatments to relieve headaches,” says Song.
Cannot completely stop the migraine attack
Kelokates agrees that cold caps could very well be used as a “pain control method” for migraine attacks. He also says some people may find that cold therapy is enough to stop attacks in their tracks.
“I like using the Migraine Hat as it covers more area than a traditional ice pack or head wrap and can add some compression. It covers the forehead, the temple area, part of the face and can even reach the base of the skull, which is important for those who experience neck pain with attacks.”
But while experts agree that cold therapy is an effective way to relieve headaches, not everyone believes that it can completely relieve your migraine attack.
Thomas Berk, MD, medical director of Neura Health, a virtual headache clinic, and a member of the American Headache Society, says it’s important to remember that migraines are a neurological disease — not a physical one.
“Typically, migraine hats are an adjunct treatment to acute medications like Gepants and triptans, or neuromodulation treatments like Cefaly or Nerivio,” he says. “From the patient’s perspective, migraine hats help relieve severe headaches, but they don’t stop the mechanisms involved in migraine attacks.”
Who should try Ice Pack Hats (and who should avoid it).
Anyone who has ever experienced the pain of a migraine attack could benefit from using an ice pack. Similarly, people with frequent tension headaches or any type of chronic headache can also experience relief from cold therapy.
Kelokates recommends starting with just 15 minutes of cold therapy if you’ve never used it before. Most people agree that 20 minutes is the sweet spot for some sweet relief, but it can depend on the person. Just don’t walk for more than 30 minutes (long-term use of ice packs can harm your skin) and be sure to take off your hat as soon as you feel numb.
Ice pack hats have no side effects unless you wear them for too long. Prolonged exposure to cold can cause ice burns, but that’s not very likely since cooling caps lose their cooling effect once you take them out of the freezer.
The bottom line on Ice Pack Hats
While there is no scientific evidence that cold caps are a complete panacea for migraine relief, experts agree that they can certainly be part of an effective migraine relief strategy. Used for centuries, cold therapy can help relieve the pain associated with migraines — which is why it’s worth trying for those who suffer from either chronic or episodic migraines.
Remember, when it comes to migraine relief, it’s important to consult a headache specialist who can provide you with personal advice and treatment. Ice packs may be a good place to start, but they are not intended to replace medical treatment for migraines.