Ice Pick Headache – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ice pick headache is a sharp, intense pain that lasts for a brief duration making it one of the most painful headaches ever experienced. An episode often lasts from 5 seconds to 1 minute and slowly vanishes in the next half an hour. In some cases, it reoccurs several times in 24 hours. Ice pick headaches can be primary or secondary and mostly occur without any cause and other times due to an underlying disease. This can generally occur in any part of your head, most commonly around the eyes and temples.

Symptoms of ice pick headache

The duration is so brief that there is no time for other associated symptoms to show up. However, some of the symptoms include:

  • Feels like stabbing with spokes of ice
  • Abrupt onset of a stabbing, throbbing headache
  • Duration lasting only 5 to10 seconds
  • The pricking occurs several times during the day
  • Pain in back of head, on top of head, on forehead, and temples
  • Facial flushing
  • Tearing
  • Eyelid drooping

Causes of ice pick headache

The exact cause is still unknown but some physicians consider this to be associated with disruptions in the control mechanisms of the brain, for a brief duration of time. It occurs in primary and secondary forms.


This occurs without any obvious cause and the headache itself is the cause.


There are some underlying conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Bell’s palsy, Herpes Zoster e.t.c

Other similar headache disorders

Other headaches should be ruled out as their symptoms resemble an ice pick headache and should not be overlooked.

Trigeminal Neuralgia:

It is a chronic nerve condition that primarily affects the Trigeminal nerve, but the Headache due to this is brief and abrupt in onset like an Ice pick headache.

Occipital Neuralgia:

The pressure is exerted on a pinched nerve that causes pain at the back of the head and neck. But the pain in Occipital Neuralgia lasts longer than an Ice pick headache and can be distinguished.

Thunderclap Headache:

Thunderclap headache is the worst type of headache lasting only a few seconds to a few minutes, followed by some other symptoms that might indicate a serious, life-threatening underlying condition. Their brief duration can easily be confused with an Ice pick headache.

Paroxysmal Hemicranias:

Paroxysmal Hemicranias is another type of headache which is abrupt in onset but is brief in duration, lasting up to 20 seconds. However, these might occur several times a day.


According to some researches, people who have different types of migraines are more prone to Ice pick headaches. They might have frequent attacks

What can trigger an ice pick headache?

For people with migraines who have Ice pick headaches as well, may have the following triggers:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Hormonal changes
  • Disturbed sleeping pattern.

Treatment of ice pick headache

Due to a short duration of pain, you don’t really need any sort of treatment. However, people with migraines and clusters, who suffer from frequent headache attacks might need some prophylactics:

  • Melatonin: usually given as a treatment for insomnia and insomnia-triggered headaches
  • Indomethacin: is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that reduces inflammation and helps relieve pain

Lifestyle modifications and home remedies

People who get frequent episodes should make some lifestyle modifications, some of these are:

  • Figure out the triggers and avoid them as much as possible
  • Avoid stress and anxiety
  • Meditate on a regular basis
  • Take a balanced diet 
  • Sleep adequately and follow a routine
  • Stay hydrated
  • Acupuncture has proven to be a very helpful treatment for recurrent attacks

When to consult a doctor?

Ice pick headache, that you experience once in a while is harmless, but if you suffer from frequent episodes of such headaches, they are indicative of other associated conditions. Most chronic migraine sufferers have these headaches and should consult a doctor for proper management of their condition.


Is an ice pick headache, in any way related to migraine?

According to recent studies, people who suffer from migraines are more likely to have ice pick headaches in later life.

Is melatonin a proven treatment for ice pick headache?

It has a short duration thus you might not even need treatment for it. Melatonin is usually given as a treatment for insomnia and insomnia-triggered headaches, so it can act as a prophylactic.

What are some of the other headaches I might be confusing an ice pick headache with?

Occipital Neuralgia, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Migraine, Paroxysmal Hemicranias, and possibly a Thunderclap headache.

What is the location of the pain of an ice pick headache?

It generally affects only half of the head or just one point in the head, which can be anywhere.

Last medically reviewed on July 31, 2021.