A Strange But True Home Remedy for Migraine Headaches: Self-Inflicted Brain Freeze

Some believe that forcing a "brain freeze" on themselves can help get rid of a migraine headache. Does this unusual home remedy for migraines work?

home remedies for migraines

But making yourself get a brain freeze, what some people call an “ice cream headache,” can actually stop a migraine for some people.

© Alp Aksoy | ID 92086391

Migraines are tricky; once they begin, it can be near impossible to get them to stop or go away. Many people have learned tricks, however, that help them to control their migraines. Using essential oils, placing an ice pack on the head or back of the neck, and massaging the neck or scalp are just a few examples. But perhaps the strangest home remedy for migraine is the brain freeze technique.

A brain freeze is generally something we avoid. The instantaneous pain in the head that happens after eating ice cream or slurping an ice-cold drink through a straw is a common experience, and it doesn’t feel very good. But making yourself get a brain freeze, what some people call an “ice cream headache,” can actually stop a migraine for some people.

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Could Bringing on a Brain Freeze Be an Effective Home Remedy for Migraine?

Brain Freeze: Does It Actually Work as a Home Remedy for Migraine Headaches?

You can find all kinds of anecdotal reports that intentionally causing a brain freeze works to stop a migraine in its tracks and relieves pain. Many people find that eating ice cream, drinking ice-cold water, slurping a slushy drink, or holding cold water on their upper palate is effective.

Even people who find no relief from medications and other common migraine treatment recommendations have reported migraine relief from this seemingly strange yet simple strategy. But how could it possibly work?

The Science of a Brain Freeze

Until fairly recently, brain freezes were a mysterious phenomenon. But researchers are finally beginning to understand what actually happens in the body during a brain freeze.

In one study, 13 adults drank both ice water and room temperature water and the researchers evaluated blood flow in the brain while they did so.[1] The participants were asked to drink the ice water through a straw held against their upper palate until the pain of a brain freeze occurred. The researchers found that pain increased when an artery called the arterial cerebral artery swelled and blood flow increased. The pain went away when the artery constricted again and blood flow decreased.

Similar changes in blood flow are linked to migraine headaches. While there is still more to be learned about what causes migraines, and even though there is some disagreement among experts, there’s a link between the dilation of blood vessels (when they enlarge to increase blood flow) and migraine pain. Some headache drugs work by blocking this dilation.

A Home Remedy Worth a Try

Researchers have still not studied the effects of inducing brain freeze to treat headaches, but the study above suggests that there is a possible scientific link between brain freezes and migraine pain. So while a brain freeze may seem like a strange home remedy for migraine, some may consider it to be worth a try. It doesn’t seem to work for everyone, but it’s easy to experiment for yourself to see if whether it helps.

Brain freezes are often associated with ice cream, but there are healthier alternatives; all you’ll need is water and ice. Try drinking ice-cold water through a straw and holding it against your upper palate until a brain freeze occurs. Blending ice into a slushy may also help. Give it a try and, using the Comments section below, let us know whether it’s effective for you.

Other Options for Natural Migraine Treatment

Read more in the following posts for ideas on managing migraine pain:

Share Your Experience

Have you ever had any experience with this unique home remedy? Did it help? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


[1] FASEB J. April 2012 26 (Meeting Abstract Supplement) 685.4


Originally published in 2015, this post has been updated.

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Comments
  • I eat two popsicles every time one of my headaches start and that makes them go away and I feel great! What an odd study, but I did enjoy reading this article!

  • Jennifer

    I have had multiple migraines where medication didn’t help, but I found that running my head under cold water helps the pain go away immediately!!

  • I can vouch that this remedy has been very successful for me in the past. As ridiculous as it sounds, I either give myself a brain freeze with a slush or whatever I can get my hands on, or I fill the sink up with be entire bucket of ice water and dip my head in briefly a few times. The brain freeze method works more often than not, I’d say it works 4 out of every 5 times I try it. I am treated by a doc for migraines and take imitrex when they are really bad, but the brain freeze method doesn’t product the terrible side effects!

  • I’ve been doing this for years. I drink a frozen drink like a Slurpee. I found it always helps and about half the time it actually made the headaches go away. Currently, I don’t get headaches anymore.

  • I started to have migraines 10 years ago, and I have to say eating ice or drinking cold water works for me! I just found out recently about this technic and I avoided 2 migraines already. 2 days ago I had all the symtoms of coming up long And painful migraine. I ate iced water and The pain diminished. I still felt like it was there but I didn’t have pain. More impressively I was not sick to the pont where I couldn’t go to work. This morning I woke up at 6 am with migraine. I ate ice. Again, I could feel that I had a migraine but with less pain and no sensation of being sick.

  • Yes, a mocha frappe always works! I take ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, but when I drink a mocha frappe it makes all the pain disappear. I thought it was just a coincidence, but after suffering for two days straight, I relented and bought one and wa-la, migraine is gone, thank God!

  • Elspeth

    Ditto for me. Doesn’t always work, but can halt a migraine sometimes in this way, usually frozen mocha or coffee shake, to get the caffeine benefit too. Used this remedy tonight after 2 days of migraine and nausea. Also use Baclofen but is not a pain med, more a preventative that doesn’t always work. The times brain freeze does work, it’s fast and effective. May be sore but most of the migraine is gone. Imitrex is ineffective for me.

  • I fast except for eating my kids popsicles and found it to work quite well! i get monthly migraines and this works!

  • Today I had ALL the symptoms of a migraine coming on I’ve been suffering with debilitating migrainemigraines for over 20 yrs absolutely nothing works except for me going to the er and getting a cocktail of different meds mine are by far the worst sensitivity to light sound smells vomiting slurred speech vision changes numbness and severe pain in my eye area well today for the first time I tried this and it surprisingly worked! I still had a slight headache felt nauseous without vomiting and numbness other than that nothing believe me it’s worth trying! All I did was crushed iced up w a little water and drank it extremely fast. …Good luck! I just hope it will work next time!

  • I didn’t actually know this was a real remedy! I was having a really bad migraine and I forgot I left a bottle of water in the freezer to use as an Ice pack. It wasn’t completely frozen and so I had a few drinks. I realized that I felt so much better the more I drink, and held ice chips from the bottle to the roof of my mouth. I still have some pain, but it’s so much more tolerable now. I only found this article trying to figure out why it was working. So definitely works for me! I hope they do more research with this!

  • Rachel G.

    Migranes have been in my experience since I was 12 years old (46 now). I have had every medicine and never helped. Pills, injections, meditation. Today I gulped down a lot of ice cold water that I passed from one cup to another (heard somewhere that doing that oxygenates the water making it work faster). Anyway it totally works. I had recurring visuals that disappeared faster and the head ahe itself it’s manageable and I’m not nauseous AT ALL that is huge for me. The only downside…I’m still cold but it’s totally worth it.

  • I’ve had debilitating migraines for 28 years and I am currently 46. The migraines occur with aura (sensory sensitivity and sometimes I lose part of my vision and have visual disturbances as well). I usually have extreme nausea with vomiting and excruciating pain that can last up to 16 hours. I have used lots of triptans and also percocet to attempt stop and also manage pain. These medicines have become largely ineffective. UNBELIEVABLY, I have been able to STOP the onset of migraines with Coke Slurpees (quickly consuming 40 ounces at a time). I have had so much hope in so many recommended failed treatments that I am confidently ruling out any suggestion of a placebo effect – acupuncture, Bowen Therapy, managing my diet (gluten free for 2 years did not improve symptoms; vegan for a year did not improve symptoms; no chemical additives did not improve symptoms; avoiding a long list of supposed trigger foods did not improve symptoms). I have used Slurpees for the last two months and I am astounded that I can finally get control. I have had one runaway migraine (from not being able to get a slurpee early enough during the aura) and found that the duration of it was lessened by consuming the Slurpees (I had to drink two). I am suspicious that the coldness must not only induce brain freeze but must also cool the gut. I notice that I get a “shiver” while drinking the slurpee that is strikingly similar to the slight shiver I get when my migraine pain is about to reverse. (Over the years, I noticed that at the point that my migraine turns around, I get a full body shiver.) There is something that feels almost electric. Hard to explain – but I think the key to understanding the pathway of reversal is understanding what this shiver is signaling or triggering. For now, I am 100% on board with using the Coke Slurpee. 7 Eleven has become my new pharmacy…and my copay is $1.99!

  • I have been doing this for at least 25 years and yes indeed it does work. I found this article while doing a search to find out if it is dangerous. I suffer from migraines and usually will have one a day for about three days every month. I have a prescription for Zomeg which works very well for me but long ago and occasionally even now my headache won’t go away. What I’ll do then is pour ice cold water over the portion of my head that hurts until I feel that intense brain freeze pain. My headache is then if not gone then considerably less painful. My fear is that I could cause a bleed or stroke but I haven’t been able to find any information regarding potential risks online and my Doctor just looks at me like I’m crazy. It does seem dangerous considering the intensity of the brain freeze pain but when I know I can get pretty much instant relief I will usually do it.

  • My young daughter has frequent migraines. After she told me that cold air blowing on her face in the car relieved her symptoms, I started having her suck on ice or drink ice water as soon as she tells me she has a headache (if she hadn’t already thought to do it herself). She gets significant relief from this. It’s so inexpensive, easy, and low-risk, I wish everyone who suffers from headaches knew to try it.

  • Steph

    The brain freeze method WORKS! I have a headache just about everyday of my life. Before if found out about the brain freeze method I was taking pills every day. I knew I couldn’t do that forever. I started drinking crushed ice water 20oz at least first thing in the morn including eating all the ice. It normally will keep headaches away all day. When I get home I do the same thing and still no headaches. It’s works for me I’ve been doing it now for over a year

  • I, too, have been doing this for years and when I stumbled across this article I had to ring in with my comments. For me it’s always a Tim Horton’s Hazelnut Iced Capp. Something about how they crush their ice, it’s so finely crushed that when I slurp several slurps in a row, it immediately gives a killer brain freeze that is almost too much to take, and then, VOILA! the migraine is gone! Or at least dissipated. This doesn’t work for all my migraines (I get migraines for lots of different reasons) but usually I can tell when it’s a migraine that will be helped by an Iced Capp. It happened again today. I was in total misery, just trying to survive work and the pain was escalating, so on my lunch break I grabbed an Iced Capp at Tim Horton’s drive-thru, and before I was a mile away, the headache was GONE!!!!!!!! I was so elated. Every time I tell someone, they don’t seem to believe me but I don’t care, because it’s true and it works.

  • Wow can’t believe the comments! Just tried this, didn’t eliminate completely but could be s big better. It’s been a few days now. Does this only work if you do it on day 1, or can it work on day 3?

  • Very happy to report that I too have stumbled upon this “treatment”. As soon as the very first “Splinter” of an Aura appears I fly to a source for ice cold water and drink while simultaneously performing meditative deep breathing exercises. I hold the water in my mouth “half swallowed” compressing it to the roof until it warms a bit and repeat. Sometimes it takes 5 or 10 minutes to work and other times it doesn’t. Perhaps the length of time between onset and treatment or the water temperature is a determining factor.
    Another interesting element seems to be that, while defeating the initial Aura, there are episodes where I “feel” that my migraine is hiding in the bushes for a day or so to attack! I use Topomaz /Trokendi as a prophylactic and it generally works. Cut the number down from six monthly to half that. Now Ice water has cut the number of ACTUAL full blown headaches in half. I use Relpax and Naprosyn for those. Suffice it to say we’ve come a long way from Aspirin and a dark room! I think I’m going to try frozen Margaritas next!

  • I too have finally discovered that brain freeze works. When I am ready for bed I use a blue square ice block ( like the ones you use to keep drinks cold) and lean it in my head while I sleep. I use to use it in combination of medicines but now find that if I go to sleep this way I do not get migraine during the night.

  • I just found this out. I am on treatment and have had migraines for more tan 20 years. I’m 40 and I had this terrible migraine since Sunday. Monday I did not go to work and still with my medication, the pain was on and off. Finally today (Tuesday) I got up pain free but upon arriving to the office it began again. I was considering leaving but I was drinking my usual ice cold water and the pain began to decrease almost immediately. Until today I hadn´t notice that effect of ice cold water and I´m so glad now.

  • Amanda H.

    I’ve never tried the brain freeze method of getting rid of migraines, but shivering works for me. Shivering is like a full body reset. But if shivering doesn’t work next time, I’ll order up a slurpee and give it a try. Thanks for the idea!

  • Yes, I have also had good luck with the brain freeze method. I have suffered with migraines for 30 years. I was out for the day and forgot my bottle of aspirin. Headache started and was getting pretty bad. Pulled into McDonalds and ordered a strawberry banana smoothie. Sipped it to get the brain freeze until it was gone. After about 10 minutes it was much diminished. I usually need to take 3-4 Excedrin to get rid of my migraines and have also tried Relpax and Imitrex with bad side effects. I figured this out by accident and then someone told me it was a real remedy. It’s hard to believe it works.

  • Claire M.

    I have done this for years, ice cubes, lollies for a migraine. I used to suffer really badly. Eye problems, vomiting and lasting upto 24hrs. I tell everyone about my ice cure! Swear by it!

  • I tried it for my migrs6 attacks amazing recovery I put small ice cube in my nostrils research somebody do proper research for me miracle ice cube in nostrils

  • Daniel D.

    You don’t even have to ingest anything. I keep a can of soda or juice in the freezer at all times just for this. As soon as the aura appears in my sight, I run for the can and massage my head with it. Temples, forehead and neck areas. After a good 5 -10 minutes it’s gone. No aura no headache.

  • I have beem suffering from bad migraine attacks for eight years now and tried several prophylactic treatment which i stopped due to side effect and took pain killer mefanamic acid when i got the attackTill up to three weeks back i had to to get twice or thrice a week pain killer to come out of pain but miraculously one day i put small ice cube into my nostrils alternatively to relive migraine pain and i suddenly felt pain free from that day onwards i havent got migrain pain even when i exposed to worst triggering factors for me like consuming alcohol and lack of sleep.I am wondering whether putting ice in nostril would increase my threshold for migraine or whether brain has got some learning mechanism not to dilate its blood vessels to triggers as it would make brain freeze or whatever to constrict vessels with ice so it will not make vessel dilate to cause migraine pain Somebody please do a research because brain freeze or whatever mechanism that had prevent my suffering for three weeks
    up to now is definitely worth trying for other sufferers

  • Son-Flower S.

    I have had a migraine for over six weeks now. Sometimes it is silent (without pain), but lately it is getting very painful with nausea. Last night I dreamed about my head hurting so much. When I woke up, it really was.

    Today, I stayed in bed with no lights on, took two Lorzone, one Tylenol Arthritis Strength, put an ice pack on my forehead, and cold therapy on the back of my neck too. It all made the pain barely manageable. When putting the ice pack back in the freezer, I saw a new container of Double Chocolate Brownie Ice Cream.

    I decided to have some. I stood looking out the kitchen window, while eating/suckling on the ice cream. (I had just read to avoid chewing when you have a bad migraine.) I pressed the spoonful against the roof of my mouth to soften it. After more than a half of cup of ice cream, I noticed that the pain had lessened. The noises are still there though.

    I was so surprised that I began Googling to see if anyone else had ever noticed this phenomenon. That is what brought me to this page. I am so glad that people are sharing their stories too. In a little while I will get up again, go put my head under cold water, and eat some ice cream.

  • Charlene

    I have not tried the brain freeze technique, but one thing that lessons my pain is purposely causing a chill up/down my spine. I’m not sure why it works for me – maybe the creating of tension and then the release of it. Or maybe it’s the adrenaline. I do it several times and it offers me some relief. I hope this may help others.

  • Elizabeth

    Just tried it. I am still shivering, but miraculously, it made the pain go away in about an hour without having to use medication. HUGE WIN. Worth a try. Thanks for the very interesting post.

  • Anytime I get this kind of headache, where nothing makes the pain go away, I eat frozen grapes, slushy drinks, etc. I get immediate relief but it returns after a few minutes.

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