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What You Need to Know About Ice Packs for Migraine Relief

Managing Migraine

August 27, 2023

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Photography by Juan Moyano/Stocksy United

Photography by Juan Moyano/Stocksy United

by Delia Harrington

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Medically Reviewed by:

Deena Kuruvilla, MD

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by Delia Harrington

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Medically Reviewed by:

Deena Kuruvilla, MD

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The writer describes products she thinks are useful for readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission.

I’ve spent years testing different types of ice packs, masks, and wraps for migraine relief. Here are the ones that worked best for me.

Often, the only thing that brings me substantial relief during a migraine attack — while I wait for sleep and my medication to kick in — is swaddling my head in the coldest ice packs I can find.

At times I have been a daily user of various ice packs. I’ve tried many different types designed for both the head and face.

Some of these ice packs are also used cosmetically to reduce puffiness or to relieve symptoms of other medical conditions. In general, when trying to find a product that will work for you, try looking at reviews and searching for keywords like “migraine” or “headache” so that you’re only considering the views of people using the ice packs for the same purpose as you.

While I’m not a medical expert, I’ve pulled together the insights I’ve learned through my own experiences. It’s always best to contact your doctor if you are having a hard time finding a migraine management plan that works for you.

If you live with migraine I’d recommend looking for ice packs that are unscented, flexible, wrap-able, and retain cold for as long as possible.

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Plain ice pack

This entry-level item is often the first thing most of us try. You can try whatever ice pack you have at home or try to find one that is more soft and flexible. I’ve found that anything — even a bag of frozen peas — is better than nothing.

You can try using a towel to secure it to your head so it doesn’t slip off if you fall asleep. Sometimes, I even use two at once so I can cover my eyes and head. I’d recommend buying a few so you always have one cold.

But we can do better. Thankfully, there are some relatively affordable options made just for the job.

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Head wraps

I have this Magic Gel Migraine Ice Head Wrap in purple. While it looks silly, it has been pretty helpful for me.

This wrap is a favorite for many in the migraine community. That said, the stretchy material is quite loose and cannot be tightened. While I personally prefer to have the ability to secure the ice to my head with firm pressure, I do appreciate having the option to pull my long hair through the top.

I haven’t been able to find good options for icing the top of my head, and I was hopeful that this would offer some relief based on the photos online. Unfortunately, the very top of the cap is only covered by cloth, and the ice gel inserts stop shy of full coverage.

If you use this ice pack, be mindful of how you freeze it. The large rectangular packets of ice turn into extremely solid bricks that aren’t exactly skull-shaped. I found this uncomfortable until they melted a bit.

I purchased the World-Bio Ice Hat as another attempt to ice the top of my head, and it is frankly the closest any pack has come so far to getting the job done. If you like customizable pressure, this ice pack (which my family nicknamed “the wrestling helmet”) is for you.

There’s a lot of padding around the ice packs, so you really don’t have to worry about what shape it freezes in. It holds its own shape and feels soft on your head. This cap also manages to be very cold for at least the first 30 minutes or so.

In terms of applying firm, gentle pressure, customizability, and sizing flexibility, nothing else compares. Yet this contraption sometimes borders on being too complicated for my brain during a migraine episode to handle. I’d recommend doing a dry run when you’re not in the midst of an attack to get a feel for how to wear it. You might need another person to help you the first time.

My favorite head wrap is actually one that wasn’t made for heads at all. A friend of mine who also lives with migraine recommended this Gel Bead Back Wrap.

Despite being designed for backs and knees, it provides some of the most blissful relief I have ever felt. Sometimes, I have horrible pain at the base of my skull, and I use this compartmentalized ice pack to cradle my neck and lower head. The straps allow me to keep the whole thing in place with some pressure.

The cooling effect usually lasts about an hour, and I love how it feels like my neck and skull are being firmly cradled by an icicle creature. I absolutely love it.

Face masks

Sometimes I just need my entire face to be as cold as possible.

For those times, I reach for this Gel Bead Face Mask, which can be both hot and cold. It provides a nice balance in terms of coverage, where it is more than just eye coverage but less than full face coverage. I often find that my upper face muscles around my eyes also constrict in pain, so I appreciate the broad coverage.

This mask claims it’s lavender-scented, but I have never detected that scent. If anything, like other face masks, it did smell a bit plasticky when it first arrived. I recommend airing it out before you use it, especially if you’re sensitive to scents.

The biggest downside of this mask is that it doesn’t cover the eyelids themselves. If you’re like me and the eyelids are a pain point, this could be a drawback.

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Eye masks

I have migraine with aura, which causes a lot of eyestrain. This cooling eye mask is one of my go-to’s.

At the height of the pandemic, I was using it multiple times a day, and now I bring it whenever I travel, even if it’s only for a couple of nights. It usually stays cold for 20–30 minutes, like most eye masks. It can also be heated up, pulling double duty if that offers you relief.

My all-time favorite ice pack option

If you tell anyone that you are looking for an ice pack for headaches, it shouldn’t take long for them to recommend my all-time favorite, the Headache Hat. This long, rectangular ice pack is made of three rows of 24 total cubes, which stay cold for up to 2 hours.

The genius of this ice pack is that it pairs the flexibility of its small ice cube segments with long lasting frigid temperatures. Usually, I can only find this long-term cooling from products that are more like big, rigid slabs of ice. I don’t know how they do it, and I don’t need to know. I just know that it works.

While the one I have is more of an oversized headband or hair wrap than a true hat, this ice pack can be adjusted somewhat in terms of size and tightness and secured in place with velcro.

When it starts losing its cool, I take it off, flip it, and do the same thing with the opposite side facing in. The same company now also makes a baseball hat-style variation, which I have yet to try.

The Headache Hat also comes in a thinner version in pink, but I always want as much cold as possible. I also like that on video calls, people don’t necessarily know what’s wrapped around my head if I haven’t told them. This ice pack is so effective that I now own three so that I can always keep one cold, even if a family member borrows one.

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The takeaway

If you’re like me, cooling therapy can be a game changer for migraine relief. However, trying to find the best option for your symptoms and budget can be overwhelming.

It has been a process of trial and error to find the perfect option that works for me. I hope these insights can help you find the relief you need.

Medically reviewed on August 27, 2023


Join the free Migraine community!
Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Delia Harrington

Delia Harrington is a Boston-based freelance writer, culture critic, policy nerd, and activist. Her work has appeared in DAME Magazine, The Rumpus, Den of Geek, Nerdist, Ravishly, The Mary Sue, Hello Giggles, and more. You can keep up with her work on her website, Instagram, and Twitter.

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