Migraine typically manifests as severe headaches that can be difficult to manage, especially if they appear without warning. Though it may take some trial and error to find what works for you, home remedies like ice packs and naps could help ease symptoms.

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Throbbing, pulsating pain in one side of your head is characteristic of migraine, a severe type of headache that often brings on additional symptoms like sensitivity to light and nausea.

While many people have prescriptions to help reduce migraine frequency, medications don’t always stop migraine attacks completely, and some have to be timed correctly to provide the most relief.

If you’re experiencing a migraine attack and your go-to management strategies aren’t cutting it, adding some home remedies into the mix might improve your level of comfort.

There’s no “one size fits all” home remedy for migraine relief, but there’s a variety of at-home options to supplement current medical therapies and medications.

Apply an ice pack or warm compress

The underlying causes of migraine aren’t fully understood, but migraine pain often comes from activation of your trigeminovascular system, a network made up of the trigeminal nerve and its associated blood vessels.

The trigeminal nerve is the largest cranial nerve in your head and is responsible for relaying sensations from your face to your brain.

Among many other processes, activation of the trigeminovascular system triggers the release of chemicals that cause blood vessels in the brain to widen. This can lead to inflammation and the throbbing, pulsating pain of a migraine headache.

Applying cold compresses to your head or shoulders can help relieve migraine pain by encouraging blood vessels to narrow, decreasing inflammation, and slowing the pain signals traveling along your nerves.

Cold compresses should be applied for no longer than 15 minutes at a time. If you’re using an ice pack, placing it in a towel will protect your skin from too cold temperatures.

For some people, muscle tension can add to migraine pain. In this case, applying a warm compress to your shoulders may help relax and soothe your muscles and help alleviate some of the pain of a migraine attack.

You can try for yourself to see whether cold packs or a warm compress helps your migraine attacks.

Stress-relieving activities

Migraine triggers are circumstances that increase the likelihood you’ll experience a migraine.

Stress is the most common trigger of migraine, and managing stress can help reduce how frequently you experience severe headaches and can also reduce the severity of your pain if you’re having a migraine attack.

By managing stress in the moment, you’re taking away the catalyst setting off your migraine response.

Ways you can reduce stress during a migraine include:

Massage and acupressure

Scalp massage with your fingertips during a migraine attack can be soothing. Massaging the muscles of the head boosts circulation and can help release tension, factors that contribute to migraine pain in some people.

Research into which types of massage are most effective is limited, but a systematic review and meta-analysis from 2020 suggests tuina, a type of traditional Chinese massage focusing on acupressure points in the head, may be particularly effective for tension-related headaches.

A tuina practitioner can instruct you on the different movements involved in applying this massage art for migraine. Kneading, pushing, holding, and rolling movements all have a specific therapeutic purpose in tuina.

Other acupressure points around the body may also help relieve migraine pain. A small 2023 study found squeezing the pressure point between the thumb and the index finger helped relieve migraine pain in 6 out of 7 people in the research.

To try this home remedy, apply rhythmic pressure to the muscle at the junction of your thumb and index finger on the hand that corresponds to the side of your head experiencing pain (left hand for a left-sided headache, for example).

Massage and acupressure manipulation aren’t for everyone. If migraine increases your sensitivity to touch, these home remedies could cause additional discomfort.

Taking a nap if possible

Migraine symptoms can make you crave sleep. Light and sound sensitivity, as well as pressure in your head, can naturally make you want to close your eyes and embrace a dark, quiet environment.

The relationship between sleep and migraine is complex. Too much or too little sleep can be a migraine trigger, and migraine attacks can negatively affect how well you sleep.

Improving your sleep can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks and their severity if they happen, and during an attack, taking a nap might provide relief.

Sleep is restorative. It’s the time when your body goes into maintenance mode, regulating inflammation, balancing cognitive functions, and eliminating fatigue. Naps also take you out of sensory overload and shut out external stimuli that might be causing stress.

Rehydrate

Dehydration, when your body doesn’t have enough water to support its function, can contribute to migraine symptoms by impairing circulation, affecting fluid balance in your brain tissue, and creating an imbalance in inflammatory chemicals and waste products.

Drinking water or an electrolyte beverage can help get you back on track, but it may take some time for you to notice the effects, depending on how dehydrated you are. If dehydration is your migraine trigger, rehydrating could help improve your symptoms within a few hours.

Soak your feet in a basin of hot water

Some people report migraine relief from soaking their feet in a basin of hot water.

While there are no specific research studies to support this home remedy, the theory behind it suggests that increased circulation in your feet from the heat helps move blood away from your head, relieving pressure and inflammation.

What herbal supplements relieve migraine pain?

Research suggests several herbal remedies and supplements show promise for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks, but evidence is mixed regarding the use of herbal supplements during a migraine attack to quickly reduce pain.

One systematic review from 2020 suggests menthol and chamomile may offer some relief as acute treatments.

Can migraine be prevented naturally?

It is possible to help prevent migraine attacks naturally through lifestyle changes and proactive management efforts, such as:

  • getting quality sleep
  • eating a balanced diet
  • getting regular exercise
  • practicing stress reduction
  • staying hydrated
  • identifying and avoiding triggers

Can home remedies make migraine worse?

Home remedies can make migraine worse for some people. Individual triggers and symptoms might make you more sensitive to certain stimuli, like temperature or touch.

What should you not do during an active migraine episode?

While exercise is considered a part of proactive migraine management, exercising during a migraine attack is not recommended. Intense exercise can increase physical strain and fatigue, promote dehydration, and increase blood pressure throughout the body, including your head.

However, some people may find light movement like yoga, stretching, or walking, helps relieve migraine pain.

Treating a migraine at home is about finding natural remedies that work for you. Cold compresses, hot foot baths, massage, and sleep are just a few options that might relieve symptoms during an attack.

Speaking with a migraine specialist provides the opportunity to explore medications and medical therapies that treat migraine. If you’re already on a treatment program and your migraine attacks aren’t being successfully managed, your doctor will reevaluate your current lifestyle habits and therapeutic plan.