Ice Pick Headaches

What’s the best way to describe how an ice pick headache feels? It’s like someone’s stabbing your face with an ice pick. That’s why they're also called stabbing headaches.

Many people from time to time feel quick jabs or jolts of severe pain around one of their eyes or at their temple. They usually last only a few seconds.

They might happen in the same spot over and over again. Or, you could feel them in different places each time, such as on one temple and then the other. They can crop up at any time of day and even a few times a day. They may seem to come and go.

Who Gets Ice Pick Headaches?

You’re more likely to get ice pick headaches if you’re prone to migraines or cluster headaches. But you could get them even if you don’t normally have migraines. People usually first notice them between the ages of 45 and 50.

What Causes These Headaches?

It’s not clear what causes ice pick headaches. But doctors do know they’re not brought on by disease or injury. You may get them because something is wrong with the way your brain sends pain signals to your body.

You may find that certain things can trigger this type of headache, like:

  • Sudden movements
  • Bright light
  • Stress

Track Your Triggers

It’s a good idea to keep a headache diary. Write down when you have an ice pick headache and what happened before it started. If you had a stressful day at work before it hit, write that down. You can also use a mobile phone app instead of a diary.

Take this information to your next doctor’s appointment so you can discuss ways to prevent these headaches. He may be able to suggest lifestyle changes, like relaxation, to reduce stress.


Ice pick headaches may come and go quickly, so they’re hard to treat. One medicine you might try to prevent an attack is indomethacin (Indocin). It’s a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. It could cause side effects like nausea, stomach bleeding, heartburn, and eye or kidney problems. You’ll need to get an annual eye exam to make sure your eyes are healthy if you take it.

When to Seek Emergency Help

Ice pick headaches aren’t serious in most cases. But other brain conditions that are could make you feel similar pains. If you have brief headaches that feel like stabbing, see your doctor to rule out other health concerns.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on December 10, 2017



Cleveland Clinic: “Less Frequently Encountered Headache Types,”

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Headache: Hope Through Research.”

National Headache Foundation: “Case Studies in Headache Archive: Icepick Headache.”

American Headache Society Committee on Headache Education: “Ice Pick Headaches: The Basics.”

Stanford Health Care: “What Is a Headache Diary?”

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