Headbands Can Relieve Headache Pain

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 29, 2000 -- Headbands that deliver heat, cold, or pressure may help relieve headache pain and shorten headache length among sufferers -- without the side effects of many medications, a new study suggests.


The headband device used in the study is specially designed to produce pressure by pulling a tension strap through a slide and securing it. Heat or cold is provided via microwaved or frozen gel packs that can be inserted into zippered pockets in the headband according to preference.


When fifteen people with various types of headache were given the headbands, 87% said that the headband device was "optimally effective" at curbing headache pain. While wearing the headband, headaches lasted one to three hours among sufferers, compared with two to eight hours without the headband, according to a report in the September/October issue of the Archives of Family Medicine


"When you review most of world's s literature, there has been considerable anecdotal and scientific evidence regarding the use of pressure, heat, and cold to relieve headache including tension, migraine, and cluster headache [so] we weren't surprised by the findings," says lead researcher Stephen Landy, MD, an associate clinical professor of neurology at the University of Tennessee at Memphis and the director of Wesley Headache Clinic there.


Before the study began, participants reported their typical headache durations when using medication. Then, while continuing their current medications, they used the headbands at their discretion for their next three headaches.


In diaries, the participants recorded how long they wore the headband, whether they used pressure, heat, or cold and the resulting degree of relief on an ascending scale of effectiveness ranging from zero to three.


All participants preferred pressure, but the use of heat or cold varied.


"Most often cold helps tension and sometimes migraine headache," says Seymour Diamond, MD, director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. "Heat usually does not help although there are some people that have an individual preference for heat, but all in all it's usually cold that does much better."


Cold applied with an ice bag or specific types of apparatus that go around the head may do the trick for some patients, he says, and "pressure in the area may help as well."


But medication is still important, he says. In fact, there are underused migraine medications called triptans that can actually reverse migraine attacks if taken soon enough.


"Medications do help but sometimes they cause side effects and in some people, they aren't that helpful," Landy tells WebMD, saying the headbands can be used with or without headache medication.


"It was a challenge to harness these treatments in a delivery system that is simple for patients to use," Landy tells WebMD. "The headband has the capacity to let patients use it. They can put three gel packs in or one if they have a one-sided headache and [they] can also decide how much pressure [they] want."


In addition, the headband "can be used in a broad range of patients of different ages," he says.


Currently, the headband is only available for about $40 at a drug store chain in the mid-South called Super-D. It will be more widely available in the future, but Landy is not sure when this will occur.