I Tried an Ice Cap To Treat My Migraine Attack, and Was Surprised by How Much It Helped

Photo: Stocksy/ Sergey Filimonov
Despite common misconceptions, a migraine isn’t a headache—it’s a disabling neurological condition that causes different areas of the brain to lose function, and, as a fun little add-on, typically results in a crippling headache alongside a slew of other symptoms, like nausea, scent sensitivity, trouble speaking, depression, and extreme fatigue, to name a few. Migraine attacks can be pretty debilitating, so the idea that you can throw on an ice cap to treat migraine symptoms has always made me a bit skeptical.

But, as someone who has struggled with chronic migraine for the past few years—as many as 15 a month—I’ve been on the hunt for any kind of relief and prevention possible. From essential oils to Botox to cannabis to acupuncture and everything in between, I’ve tried it all. So why not add an ice cap, or cold cap, to my arsenal of potential migraine treatments?

Experts In This Article

When I saw ads for the TheraICE Hot & Cold Therapy Head Cap, I was immediately intrigued; I had just asked for an ice roller for Christmas, so I was ready to try ice therapy for in-the-moment pain relief. And the cap itself blocks out light, yet another sensitivity for those who suffer from migraine.

“If you use it before that hour mark, it could abort the attack and stop the allodynia.”—Andrew Blumenfeld, MD, director of The Headache Center of Southern California.

How does an ice cap work to treat migraine?

That’s the big question, and I spoke with board-certified neurologist Andrew Blumenfeld, MD, director of The Headache Center of Southern California, and pioneer researcher behind Botox for migraine treatment (who has treated the likes of Aly Raisman for migraine), to get his professional opinion on ice cap therapy for migraine.

Dr. Blumenfeld says that if you can tolerate it, an ice cap—regardless of brand—might provide some relief. The trick to its success lies in the timing, he says. “An hour into a migraine attack,” Dr. Blumenfeld explains, “A patient can develop what is called allodynia. This can present as tenderness across the skull or scalp, in which you don’t want anything to touch your head; no ponytails, no hair clips, no hats, etcetera.”

So, if you’ve already reached this point, an ice cap may be uncomfortable and not helpful. But, he says, “If you use it before that hour mark, it could abort the attack and stop the allodynia.”

This is because the ice therapy itself, which Dr. Blumenfeld has seen his patients use in different mediums, can constrict the dilated blood vessels, which in turn alleviates throbbing pain, and “acts almost like a nerve block,” with its numbing effect, he says.

Here’s how the cold cap worked for me

With the doc’s seal of approval, I decided it was time to check it out. After receiving a sample for review, I waited until my next migraine attack to test it out firsthand. Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my experiment), it took a bit longer since my preventative treatments have been increasing the length between each attack. But when the next migraine came, it was a doozy.

I was away from my prescription medication at the time, so the headache symptom progressed without intervention. By the time I got home and got to my prescription, it was too late for it to be effective. I tried a hot shower and 800 mg of ibuprofen, but nothing was working. So, to get some temporary relief, I slipped on the ice cap, and I was shocked by how soft and comfortable it was. It had a snug but not constricting fit, with a gel-like, almost memory-foam feel. Though it came straight from the tundra temperatures of my freezer, it wasn’t uncomfortably frigid and provided soothing cold temperatures to the areas that were in the most pain.

Though it was far too late in the game for this to outright stop a migraine attack for me, it did provide soothing relief and was impressively comfortable in its design.

Bonus: The cap was easy to wear

The cap stretches and slides onto your head and there’s no fastening involved, which is particularly nice when you can barely see during a migraine attack. It stayed cold for about 20 minutes, and after that point, it doubled as a nice sleep mask while I tried to nap off the pain. Aside: If heat therapy is more your speed, the TheraICE Head Cap can be heated in a microwave as well. (I don’t have one of those, so I skipped that part of the test.)

Migraine is a unique neurological disorder that presents differently from person to person, so the best way to know if this will work for you is to try it yourself. This cap is under 40 bucks, which is a lot less expensive than every other medical intervention I’ve paid for in the past two years. To boot, it’s not just me who’s impressed—there are about a hundred five-star reviews on their site.

With an ice cap, the only real risk is discomfort…it might be too cold for your liking, or you may have allodynia in which you don’t want anything touching your head. Beyond that, it’s a safe intervention to try, at a very reasonable price. Plus, the brand itself has a 30-day money-back guarantee and a one-year warranty. So if you don’t get relief, you can get your cash back and be on your merry way. All in all, if you suffer from migraine like me, I say give it a go.

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