If you get migraines from hormone fluctuations, the weather, food sensitivities or other triggers like I do, then all you can probably think about is how to get rid of the pain once a migraine begins.
Since I’m always on the lookout for natural remedies, last week I decided to see if there was any kind of device available that could hold a frozen gel pack to my head–one of my favorite pain-squelchers. And for good reason: Cold therapy helps alleviate migraine pain by constricting blood vessels, reducing inflammation and reducing pain sensitivity.
However, holding a frozen gel pack to my head can become annoying fast, especially when I need two hands to type.
That’s when I found the Head Coolie, a soft headband with a pocket that holds a frozen gel-filled strip against your head and closes with adjustable Velcro strap. I ordered one in pink for $19.99 right away. (FYI: I have no ties to this company and, in fact, they have no idea I’m writing about them today.)
Anyway, the Head Coolie arrived in just a couple of days–just as my monthly menstrual migraine was starting to hit. Perfect timing!
After the gel pack froze (took about 10 minutes), I inserted it into the Head Coolie pocket and wrapped the band around my head positioning the gel pack on my forehead and left temple where the throbbing was focused. After a minute or so, the gel pack softened and the cooling magic started working. It felt refreshing, comfortable and, hey, I could now get migraine relief and still have two hands free!
But, as you’ll probably soon learn about me if you haven’t picked up on this already, the Head Coolie reminded me of a study I’d recently read. (Heads up: I’m a total drag at parties. Everything reminds me of a study I’ve read. And I’ll tell you all about it. Seriously, I’m like the social equivalent of a “cooler” at a Vegas blackjack table. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
Luckily, if you’ve got migraines, you’ll likely find this particular research very interesting. Here’s why:
In a small 2013 pilot study, researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa instructed 55 migraine sufferers that once a migraine began they were to put an adjustable wrap around their neck targeting their carotid arteries, which are two arteries in the front of the neck on either side of the windpipe that supply the head with blood.
Half the group had frozen gel packs inserted into their neck wraps. Half didn’t. Then halfway through the study, they switched. So, every study volunteer wore both versions of the neck wrap–one with a frozen gel pack and one at room temperature–through at least one migraine.
The results: Wearing the neck wrap with a frozen gel pack reduced pain intensity by 31.8% after 30 minutes. And once the gel pack was removed, the pain intensity remained reduced at 27.3% for another 30 minutes.
Compare that to when volunteers didn’t wear the frozen gel packs: They experienced a 31.5% increase in pain intensity at 30 minutes and the pain just got worse after that.
Why it works: By targeting the blood in the carotid arteries, the neck wrap cools the blood going the head, triggering all those wonderful benefits cold therapy brings for migraine sufferers I mentioned earlier.
So, here’s the deal: I can’t really tell you to go out and buy one of these Head Coolie gizmos and use it against your neck because I’m not sure that company will appreciate my recommending their product for anything other than its intended purpose, which is to use it on your head.
However, I will say this: I used it on my neck, positioning the frozen gel pack at the front by my carotid arteries and I found the pain-killing effects were about in line with the results of the study. And, since my migraines last three days, I repeated this several times with similar positive results. So, if this is something that you want to try, too, then that’s your choice. (How’s that for legal protection?)
If you do try it, please remember not to tie the band too tightly around your neck (in the study, one participant experienced mild dizziness and I suspect it’s because he or she did just this). But, keep in mind that having contact with the skin is key to cool the blood in those arteries.
Here’s a photo from the study that demonstrates how to use a cooling neck wrap.
If you experience tingling or burning or any other discomfort, obviously you should discontinue use. (I personally didn’t find it uncomfortable at all.) Also, using plain ice or an uncovered gel pack directly on your neck is not a great idea since you don’t want to add frostbite pain to your migraine pain.
While this didn’t banish my migraine completely, I’m happy to have one more pill-free pain remedy for my migraine arsenal that I’ll definitely be using again.