Ice Pick Headaches: Causes and Treatment

The pain from ice pick headaches can be excruciating.
The pain from ice pick headaches can be excruciating. | Source

What is an Ice Pick Headache?

Ice pick headaches are very sudden and extremely painful headaches that last only a matter of seconds.

The pain associated with this type of headache can be described as a sharp, stabbing pain, thus the name "ice pick." It can be a single stabbing pain or feel like multiple stabs. To me, the pain feels similar to an ice-cream headache, but the pain is stronger and the headache doesn't last as long.

While the pain only last for a few seconds, sometimes these headaches can occur in irregular clusters. These headaches are completely spontaneous as it can be days, weeks, months, or even years in between attacks. I had these headaches occasionally since I was a teenager. They are a rare occurrence for me, I'll have them in clusters over a span of a day and then won't have them again for about a year or two.

Write it Down

Keep a journal to log your headaches. You can bring this with you to your next appointment in order to help your doctor identify what might be causing your headaches. This can help you get the best treatment possible, plus your doctor will love you for it!

Here are some of the questions you'll want to answer each time you have a headache, whether or not it's an ice pick:

What does it feel like?

Where are you?

What were you doing before it started?


How long did the headache last?


What's today's date?

Ice Pick Headache Causes

The exact cause of ice pick headaches is a mystery to scientists. However, there are some people who are more predisposed to this type of headache.

Although only 2% of the population ever experiences these headaches, up to 40% of people who have migraines experience ice pick headaches sometime in their lifetime. This type of headache is also linked to cluster headaches. That said, these headaches usually occur independently of migraine and cluster attacks.

While ice pick headaches and migraines have the tendency to be comorbid, not everyone who has ice pick headaches suffers from migraines. I suffer from ice pick headaches, but have never had a migraine.

There may be a link between ice pick headaches and cranial trauma, cranial lesions, or the herpes virus. However, they aren't typically the sign of another underlying issue, it's always a good idea to notify your physician about them in order to rule out a potential underlying condition.

This is an ice pick, it's where this head ache got its name. As you can imagine, the pain is almost unbearable.
This is an ice pick, it's where this head ache got its name. As you can imagine, the pain is almost unbearable. | Source

Types of Treatment

Aspirin or other over the counter NSAID pain relief are usually the first option in treating a headache. However, because ice pick headaches last only a matter of seconds, treatment can be difficult.

These headaches are usually gone before you have the chance to reach for a painkiller. By the time the painkiller would kick in, the headache would be ancient history! Pain relief can be a huge help during ice pick headache attacks where you get several of these headaches throughout a short period of time.

Ibuprofen is a cheap, over-the-counter that is effective in treating ice picks. Melatonin, an over-the-counter insomnia treatment, has also been shown to be an effective treatment option. Before taking any medication, consult your doctor. He or she will be able to give you individualized advice about your condition.

The problem with treating these headaches is that they occur so infrequently and last for only second that it would almost not be worth the effort. If you suffer from migraines and take medication for preventative measures, this may also help prevent ice picks. However, if you don't suffer from migraines, usually the best course of action is to let the headache pass.

It's important to tell your doctor about your headaches, even if you're already being treated for migraines. He may prescribe a different medication to control your migraines and offer individualized advice.

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Comments 9 comments

AestheticChaos 2 years ago

I have been getting these ice pick headaches since i was a teenager, but I never thought of them as a headache because i would only get about 5 at most throughout the day. Yesterday I started getting the pains again but it hasn't stopped. I read some people have had them for days on end. I really hope that's not the case because they are horrible.


sammy jacobs 3 years ago

im having headaches for months now do not know what to do please help


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico

I have these, the doc said he thinks mine are neuralgia of some sort. It's been going on for 20 years, on and off, so i've ruledout a tumor out (I hope!)

Unpleasant though

Good article

Bob


Chris 3 years ago

As if a tiny grenade has exploded in your head and it's all over in seconds. I've suffered with these momentarily crippling pains since I was a child and had the worse one today, hence the research. With me, they seem to follow times of inactivity (sloth penance?). Shame there is no cure but some consolation that I can now explain why I am sometimes suddenly incapacitated and rendered dumb.


3 years ago

I've been having ice pick attacks off and on for years now, though mostly on it seems. usually I have at least 1 attack a day, the worst days I lose count how many separate attacks. It always feels like people think I'm making it up because often they only notice I'm holding my head and doing deep breathing exercises at the end of an attack.


mechelle 4 years ago

I get these headaches once a week and the stabbing attacks last all day. I feel a short stabbing pain several times in a row, then a break and it continues like this throughout the day. The stabbing i feel is often so intense, my scalp is sore.. I've tried everything and nothing works to ease it. Any suggestions??


Doona 4 years ago

Haven't had an "ice-picker" for quite a while but weirdly had one while getting a deep muscle massage on a tight calf muscle...thought there had to be a relation, but maybe it was just random....had a few more afterwards.....maybe some toxins were released into my head?!


nifwlseirff profile image

nifwlseirff 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

I've had the range of headaches, but the ice pick headaches are the most sudden and debilitating, even though they last only a short time. The WHO and IHS have changed their headache classifications in recent years, although they still don't understand how ice pick headaches work (in the 'other' category).

A journal is certainly useful for tracking symptoms.


Btryon86 profile image

Btryon86 4 years ago

I've always had migraines, and I experience intense bouts of stabbing pain all the time, but I never knew there was an actual name for them. I just figured they were random pains. Very informative hub! Glad to know there are some treatment options.

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