Can soaking feet in hot water and keeping a ice pack on the head relieve migraine?

A cool head and warm feet could help redirect blood and lessen migraine.

Keeping a cool head will help you tide over a migrainous episode, and not just figuratively. Combining the technique with a hot foot bath is said to send the migraine packing, according to people who have tried it. Migraine is the third most prevalent and seventh most leading cause of disability worldwide.1 India too has a high prevalence of migraine and other headache disorders, affecting both personal and professional lives. It is characterised by associated problems like light and sound sensitivity along with nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness and dizziness. Much of what we understand about migraine is nebulous to say the best; we don't know exactly how migraines happen. One theory says that it is caused due to excessive blood flow to the brain although studies now refute the theory.2 However, they do agree that excessive blood flow to the brain may contribute to the pain, if not initiate it.

Home remedies call for using ice packs on the head to soothe a migraine. And many migraineurs swear by the technique, saying that they experienced relief while using the ice pack at the site of the pain. Eating ice cream may induce what's popularly called an ice cream headache or "brain freeze" but surprisingly, it is said to relieve migraine. Experts think that anything cold causes the blood vessels to constrict, thus stopping excessive blood flow. When something cold is pressed against the upper palate, it constricts arterial cerebral artery, which restricts the blood flow to the brain. Conversely, when heat is applied, the arteries dilate, causing blood to gush in.

This knowledge can be used to tackle migraines say people on the internet. Soaking your feet in hot water causes the blood vessels of the lower body to dilate, redirecting the blood flow to your feet from the upper body. Simultaneously, applying an ice pack to your head will constrict the blood vessels in the cerebral area, sending the blood in the opposite direction. Although it sounds good in theory, you'd never know how well it works unless you try it out.

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So I put the theory to practice by submerging my feet in hot water when I felt a migraine approaching. I also held an ice pack against my head while my feet were soaking. After 10-15 minutes, to my delight, I felt the migraine retreating. Soaking the feet before bedtime also helped me relax and ensured a good night's sleep. Even in the morning, there was no trace of the migraine!

The method is not backed by any studies but anecdotal evidence says that the technique works. I believe that the trick worked because the migraine was just in the initial stage. I wonder how it will fare against a full-blown migraine. But it's a harmless, non-medical technique and one worth trying.


1. Kulkarni, G., Rao, G., Gururaj, G., Subbakrishna, D., Steiner, T., & Stovner, L. (2014). EHMTI-0333. The prevalence and burden of migraine in india: results of a population-based study in Karnataka state. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 15(Suppl 1), B18.

2. Roberts, E. A., & Schilsky, M. L. (2008). Diagnosis and treatment of Wilson disease: an update. Hepatology, 47(6), 2089-2111.

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