Can Headache Hats Really Relieve Migraine Attacks?
Nothing puts you down for the count quite 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 drugs that can reduce pain and other migraine symptoms, they don’t work instantaneously. So it’s not surprising that any number of home remedies and over-the-counter products have been proposed to help deal with the pain of migraine.
Of course, not all of them work instantaneously — or at all — either. If you’ve been disappointed by other migraine “miracle cures,” you may well feel some skepticism about the latest viral TikTok migraine solution: headache hats.
If we’re taking what’s popular on the internet as fact, then the evidence supporting these cooling caps is strong. TikTokers like @chelseaaforrer (5K followers) and @jazzothezombie (17.6K followers) are logging millions of views on videos where they claim taking a nap while donning what equates to a freezable beanie can relieve the often excruciating pain associated with a migraine attack.
Of course, people (especially those with migraine) are intrigued. The hashtag #headachehat currently has over 40M views and #migrainehat comes in at 9M, begging the question: Do headache hats really work? Here’s what the real experts have to say.
What Is a Headache Hat?
Headache hats are not designed with some major complex technology. Essentially, they’re just wearable ice packs that you can freeze and slip on your head when a migraine attack occurs.
The first official Headache Hat was designed by Sherri Pulie in 2013. While most styles look like oversized headbands that you simply pull over your ears, some are built to look like face masks and even baseball caps. Typically, only cooling therapy is provided (via ice packets located to hit specific pressure points), but some brands (like Aheadaches) also offer heating capabilities.
What Experts Are Saying About Headache Hats
Being able to throw on a hat and have quick pain relief sounds incredible — but how legit are these claims?
The research on cold treatment for migraine is not extensive. In one study, the application of a reusable, frozen gel pack was found to decrease pain associated with migraine, cluster, and mixed headache types. In another study, the use of a gel cap that covered most of the skull reduced pain in people experiencing migraine attacks. And in a third study, simply applying pressure to the areas of the head with the most pain relieved pain during migraine attacks.
We asked some experts in the migraine space to weigh in with their experiences and opinions.
Temporary Pain Relief
Samuel Kelokates, a physical therapist in Philadelphia who specializes in treating people with headache and migraine disorders, says there are two primary reasons cryotherapy (the fancy word for cold therapy used for medical purposes) works.
“Cold can cause vasoconstriction and decrease local swelling in the area of the head and face,” Kelokates says. “Ice may also provide a local analgesic effect by decreasing nerve activity in the applied areas.”
Grace Song, a physical therapist and vestibular therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, who has been treating migraine patients 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. This lowers the temperature of the wearer’s head, helping to ease the pain associated with migraines.
“The cold temperature will constrict blood vessels and can help reduce the neurotransmission of pain to the brain. In a clinical setting we sometimes will utilize cold therapy (ice packs) along with other modalities and treatments to help relieve headaches,” says Song.
May Not Fully Stop the Migraine Attack
Kelokates agrees that headache hats could very well be used as a “pain control method” during migraine attacks. He also says some people might find that cold therapy is enough to stop attacks in its tracks.
“I like the use of 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, temporal area, part of the face, and can even reach the base of the skull, which is important for those that have neck pain with attacks.”
But while experts agree that cold therapy is an effective way of soothing head pain, not all believe it can rid you of your migraine attack entirely.
Thomas Berk, MD, medical director of Neura Health, a virtual headache care clinic, and a fellow of the American Headache Society, says it’s important to remember that migraine is a neurological disease — not a physical one.
“Typically, headache hats are a complementary treatment to acute medications such as gepants and triptans or neuromodulation treatments such as Cefaly or Nerivio,” he says. “From a patient point of view, headache hats help dull severe head pain, but they will not stop the mechanism involved in migraine attacks.”
Who Should Try (and Who Should Avoid) Headache Hats
Anyone who has ever experienced the pain of a migraine attack could benefit from using a headache hat. Similarly, people with frequent tension headaches or any type of chronic headache may also find 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 sweet relief, but it can depend on the individual. Just don’t go past 30 minutes (long-term ice pack use can harm your skin), and be sure to remove the hat as soon as you feel numb.
Headache hats have no side effects unless you wear them too long. Prolonged exposure to cold can lead to ice burn, but this isn’t super likely to happen, as cooling caps start to lose their cooling effect the moment you take them out of the freezer.
The Bottom Line on Headache Hats
While there isn’t scientific evidence to back up headache hats as a complete cure-all for migraine relief, the experts agree that they can certainly be part of an effective migraine relief strategy. Cold therapy has been used for centuries and can help reduce the pain associated with migraine — making it worth a try for those who have either chronic or episodic migraine.
Just remember that when it comes to migraine relief, it’s important to consult a headache specialist who can provide personalized advice and treatments. Headache hats may be a good start, but they are not meant to replace medical treatment of migraine.