When Should You Ice Your Head?

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When Should You Ice Your Head

When Should You Ice Your Head?

Ice is a great treatment for mild discomfort. The cold temporarily deadens the nerve endings so they do not send pain signals to the brain, or at least the signals aren’t as strong. So, ice is a good alternative to chemical pain relievers that are normally a little slower-acting anyway.

Even better, there’s no reason to wear out your arm holding an ice pack up to your aching head. There are many good adjustable ice packs that are specifically designed for this area of the body. These packs also work well on arms, shoulders, knees, and just about anywhere else.

Head ice has some other benefits as well, so the aforementioned ice pack should not stay in the back of your freezer and come out only for accidental bumps and tension headaches.

Athletic Performance and Recovery

The old wives’ tale about most of your body’s heat escaping from your head is not entirely accurate, but the idea does contain a kernel of truth. The head is a natural radiator, so when the body heats up, the extra warmth goes to the head. That’s a bad thing, because heat impedes brain activity, making it difficult for the brain to send the right signals and causing undue muscle fatigue. A cool brain is a more efficient brain. According to one study, pre-workout or pre-contest ice improves physical efficiency by as much as 51 percent.

The same effect applies during recovery. If a cold shower isn’t in the cards for whatever reason, head icing is the next best thing. The cold starts in your head and spreads to the rest of your body, lowering your body temperature just enough to make you feel refreshed and clean.

Concussions and Other Brain Injuries

Therapeutic Hypothermia (TH) immediately after such a trauma injury reduces body temperature and preserves neurons. This preservation has both a short and long-term effect. Researchers found that TH increases survival rates by 18 percent, and reduces neurological damage by 35 percent. A word of caution: Cooling the brain of a young child (under 18 months) dramatically increases head injury mortality. So, when young toddlers bang their heads on coffee tables, keep the ice pack in the freezer.

Brain injuries are much more widespread and much worse, than originally believed, so this study is good news. In the U.S. alone, about five million people live with a brain injury, and half these individuals cannot return to work.

Migraine Relief

The wives’ tale about heat escaping through the head may have been debunked, but the one about applying ice to treat migraine headaches is alive and well. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this technique works. They just know it works.

Some theorize that the cold shrinks blood vessels, decreasing blood flow and therefore decreasing pain. Others speculate that the cold acts as an analgesic, deadening the nerves. Finally, the effect could be endocrinological. The cold may lower metabolism and therefore the inflamed tissues receive less oxygen.

Individual results vary greatly, mostly because ice has a substantial placebo effect that’s almost never the same in any two people.

The Feng Fu Juncture

The wind mansion is at the back of the neck roughly parallel to the jaw, where the head and neck connect. Chinese medical artists use this junction as an acupuncture point, and cold therapy has basically the same effect. The cold releases endorphins, or natural morphine. Other reported benefits include:

Of course, all these benefits may simply be the placebo effect. Furthermore, people with pre-existing conditions, such as illness or pregnancy, should not use this method.

Cold therapy to the head has a number of unexpected benefits beyond simple pain relief of simple injuries. Since most of these benefits are evidence-based, there is no reason not to try a head ice pack for yourself and see what happens.

Joe Fleming


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