It sounds too good to be true: Can simply sticking your feet in a tub of hot water stop a migraine attack? Some people swear by it. In one video on TikTok—which has more than 21 million views and 15,000 comments—a person standing in a steaming bucket says it eased symptoms in less than five minutes.

Of course, social media is not the most reliable source of medical information. And migraineisn’t just a bad headache: It’s a complex neurological problem that can cause crushing, debilitating head pain and other symptoms. But despite the many treatments and self-care approaches out there, the search for fast-acting remedies can be frustrating.

So before you waste time on this particular DIY approach versus another one, we asked experts to weigh in on whether there is any strong scientific evidence that it can help.

What experts think

Hydrotherapy—a broad term for using hot or cold water to treat medical conditions—has been part of traditional healing practices “for thousands of years,” Melinda Ring, MD, executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, tells SELF.

But it’s not clear whether foot baths help people because of a placebo effect or if there’s some other benefit. A popular explanation on social media is that a hot soak lessens pain by diverting some blood flow to the lower limbs and away from the head. But Fred Cohen, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, tossed some cold water (heh) on that idea.

It’s an “old-school theory” that dilated vessels cause migraine, Dr. Cohen tells SELF. Plus, he says, if blood were pulled from your head quickly enough to bring instant symptom relief, you might faint. He speculates that immersion might instead affect the nervous system in some way. The heat could stimulate nerve cells in the periphery of the body, which in theory would alter the pain signals reaching the brain during a migraine attack.

Although no one is sure why it works, there is some evidence that it does. In one study published in 2016, 40 people with chronic migraine tried a specific hydrotherapy regimen. The researchers assigned half the group to take standard migraine medication, while the rest also used baths and ice massages.1

The treatment was pretty intense: Participants submerged both their feet and arms in hot water for 20 minutes (and included a five-minute ice massage of the head) every day for 45 days. In the end, the hydrotherapy group did report a bigger drop in their headache intensity and frequency compared with the medication-only group.

It’s perfectly reasonable to give foot bathing a try since it is so simple and safe, Dr. Ring says. For example, you might give it a go while you’re waiting for your medication to kick in, she says.

Dr. Cohen has a similar view: “I would tell a patient there’s not enough evidence to validate this, but if it works for you, that’s cool.”

How to do it

As we mentioned, foot bathing is unlikely to do you harm, but make sure the water isn’t toohot, Dr. Rings notes, as scalded feet will only add to your misery.

And you might want to experiment with a combination of remedies to see what works best. Paige More, a 31-year-old from Austin, Texas, posted a video back in 2021 where she shared her go-to: doing a hot-water foot soak while holding a cold pack against the back of the neck. (She finds that a bag of frozen fruit is perfect for the job.) For More, “heat to the feet, cold to the neck” turned out to be the simple hack she needed. But she points out that her video received thousands of comments and the reviews were mixed: “Some people say it’s life-changing and other people say it didn’t work at all.”

Dr. Cohen cautions against putting all your faith in any one tactic, hydrotherapy or otherwise. “We have a lot of treatments—a lot,” Dr. Cohen says. “And it’s rare that you only do one thing.” He suggests also looking for potential triggers like exercise, sleep habits, and other factors that could be contributing to migraine.

More says she doesn’t rely on DIY approaches alone. “As someone with chronic migraine, I do take medication.” She takes a newer drug that can help prevent symptoms in the first place, which she calls “a game changer.” But when pain does flare, she knows she can turn to her hydrotherapy-based home remedies. “I love having options,” More says. “I think that’s what it’s all about.”

  1. Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, Influence of Hydrotherapy on Clinical and Cardiac Autonomic Function in Migraine Patients