Ice and Heat for Headache

TREATMENT FOR HEADACHES

Ice and Heat for Headache

Manipulation for Headache

Acupuncture for Headache

Injections for Headache

NSAIDs for Headache

TENS for Headache

Laser for Headache

 

Treatment Ratings

R E S C U R

RISK: 5/5

Injuries can occur from burns if heat, such as through hot packs, is too hot or left on for too long. Patients with reduced sensation, such as numbness or diabetic neuropathy, should use heat and cold with care. Ice burns can also occur if the skin is cooled too much. Some conditions can be worsened with heat or cold, however generally, and especially in comparison with other treatments for pain, hot and cold packs are pretty safe.

E

EFFECTIVENESS: 2/5

2_Hearts_Treatment_Rating

Despite how widely heat and cold therapies are used, there is very little good quality scientific research to support their use. Heat increases circulation, increases flexibility and increases metabolism, while ice reduces circulation, edema (swelling), inflammation, and spasm. One recent small study suggested ice may be helpful in treating migraine headaches.

Ucler S, Coskun O, Inan LE, Kanatli Y. Cold Therapy in Migraine Patients: Open-label, Non-controlled, Pilot Study. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2006;3(4):489-493. doi:10.1093/ecam/nel035.15.

Sprouse-Blum AS, Gabriel AK, Brown JP, Yee MH. Randomized Controlled Trial: Targeted Neck Cooling in the Treatment of the Migraine Patient. Hawai’i Journal of Medicine & Public Health. 2013;72(7):237-241.

S

SELF CARE: 5/5

Cold packs and hot packs are widely available and can be easily used by most people.

C

COST: 5/5

5_Hearts_Treatment_Rating

While expensive models are available, ice and heat packs are typically nearly free to very inexpensive.

U

USEFULNESS (overall rating): 5/5

5_Hearts_Treatment_Rating

Hot and cold packs are widely used, very inexpensive, have some evidence of effectiveness and are generally very safe. They are worth a try. Which to use when? There are no hard and fast rules. Migraine suffers appear to prefer cold, while tension headaches seem to respond better to heat. Our advice: If one isn’t helping, try the other.

Ice and Cold Packs for Headache Overview:

There is actually little research on the effectiveness of ice or heat for headaches, though they seem to used the world over for headaches and are the number one self-treatment for migraine. For ice packs, you can use frozen corn or peas, commercial cold packs, or a small resealable bag, such as a ZiplockÒ, filled with crushed ice. Apply ice for 10-20 minutes (not longer) once an hour while you are up. Don’t fall asleep with an ice pack, and always use a thin towel between the ice pack and your skin to avoid an ice burn.

Similarly, heat packs are widely available. You can also wet a small towel, such as a dishtowel and microwave it for 20-45 seconds. Be careful not to burn yourself. Moist heat is thought to penetrate more deeply, but any source of heat, such as an electric heating pad may help. Heat should generally not be used for more than 15 to 20 minutes per hour since the tissue needs time to return to a normal temperature periodically or it can become damaged.

Nadler SF, Steiner DJ, Erasala GN, Hengehold DA, Hinkle RT, Beth Goodale M, Abeln SB, Weingand KW, Continuous low-level heat wrap therapy provides more efficacy than Ibuprofen and acetaminophen for acute low back pain, Spine 2002 May 15;27(10):1012-7

Sprouse-Blum AS, Gabriel AK, Brown JP, Yee MH. Randomized Controlled Trial: Targeted Neck Cooling in the Treatment of the Migraine Patient. Hawai’i Journal of Medicine & Public Health. 2013;72(7):237-241.

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