[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If you have ever experienced a sharp pain in the head, you know how disrupting and worrisome it can be. The good news is that headaches are common and often, easily relieved. It is a rare person who doesn’t get occasional sharp pains in the head; it’s just an unfortunate part of the human experience. Most of the time, it’s a headache that should go away and is nothing to worry too much about, but in rare cases, a sharp pain in skull can signify something more serious.

Although there a many different types of headaches – tension headaches, sinus headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches – for this article, we are going to concentrate on the sharp pains in the head. We will discuss possible causes of stabbing pain in the head, ways to prevent and alleviate sharp pain in the skull, and when you should seek medical care for head pain. Lastly, we will examine some of the best products on the market that can relieve sharp pains in the head.

Common Types of Headaches

A headache that is characterized by sharp pains in the skull is often called an icepick headache because that’s exactly how sufferers describe it, like being stabbed with an icepick in the head. An icepick headache can cause a sharp pain on the right side of the head, left side of the head, or back of the head. It differs from the tension headache or stress headache, which is described as a dull tightness at the back of the head, neck, or temples, and a sinus headache, which causes a squeezing pain on the front of the head, nose, or face. Migraine and cluster headaches are often accompanied by visual auras, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. While all of these headaches can throw a wrench into your day, it is the sudden sharpness and stabbing pain that categorizes the icepick headache.

What Are Icepick Headaches?

The sharp pains in the head brought on by the icepick headache often come in a series of quick stabs that last for only a few seconds each. A sharp pain in the head that lasts longer than four seconds is highly unusual. The stabbing pains can occur on one or both sides of the head, the front or back of the skull, or around the eyes. Some people experience the sharp pain in the same spot whenever they get this type of headache, while other feel the sharp, stabbing pain in different places. If your icepick headache seems to be isolated to one particular area of your head, you should see your physician. It could be that nerve or bone damage is mimicking the sharp pain of an icepick headache.

Icepick Headaches: Primary or Secondary

The stabbing, sharp pain in your skull can be a primary condition or a secondary one. A primary headache is a term that applies to the headache itself as an isolated incident. A secondary headache means that the headache is a symptom of another condition.

Some of the primary headache conditions could be what medical professionals call a short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache with cranial autonomic symptoms (SUNA), or short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache with conjunctival injection and tearing (SUNCT). These types of headaches are characterized by red and watery eyes, runny nasal passages, redness in the face, and swelling around the eyes, nose, and sinuses. Cranial neuralgias, trigeminal neuralgia, or nummular headaches may also produce the sharp pain in the head much like an icepick headache.

What Causes Sharp Pains in the Head?

sharp pain in headUnfortunately, doctors are not sure what causes icepick headaches or sharp pains in the back of the head. Although it is natural to be concerned about stabbing pains to the skull, most are temporary and harmless. Doctors theorize that these sharp pains may be in some way linked to the electronic signals that are transmitted to your brain via the nervous system. One possible explanation is that these stabbing pains happen because of a glitch in the electric impulses.

It could be that the sharp pain is the electric signals reacting to a trigger or stimuli. Moving your head or neck suddenly or in a certain way could cause the nerves to signal a quick, sharp pain. Stress, worry, and anxiety may also cause the body to react with jolts of sharp pain. Other triggers could be bright lights, flashing lights, over-the-counter and prescription medications, food, or beverages such as red wine.

Top Related Article: What Causes Migraines And Can They Be Prevented?

The blood vessels encircling your skull could also be responsible for the sharp pain on the right or left sides of your head, as could be the muscles of the head. It is interesting to note that the pain of a headache does not originate in the skull or brain tissue, even though it may feel like it does. Neither one of these areas have nerves that register pain. The muscles, soft tissue, and blood vessels of the head, however, can send pain signals to the brain, as can the teeth, sinuses, joints in the neck and jaw, and even the scalp.

The sharp and shooting pain could also be the result of a chemical fluctuation in the area of the brain that records pain impulses. There is some indication that certain people are genetically more susceptible to experiencing icepick headaches, and it could be that the tendency for chemical fluctuations is hereditary.  

Record Your Headaches to Help Identify the Underlying Cause

If you are experiencing the sharp pains in the head from an icepick headache, you should try to track the external stimuli that might be triggering your pain. Keep a journal or use a smartphone app to help you keep a record of when your sharp, shooting pain occurred, what you ate or drank prior to experiencing the pain, your mood and stress level, and other factors such as weather, temperature, lighting, noise, and smells. If you end up scheduling an appointment with your family doctor to discuss your headaches, this information will be valuable in determining a cause or trigger and your best course of action.

When to See Your Doctor for Sharp Headaches

If your sharp pain in the head is severe, frequent, or otherwise causes you concern, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. A frank discussion with a trained and experienced medical professional is the best way to put your mind at ease if you are worried that the sharp pain in the head that you are experiencing may be a sign of something more serious. In the vast majority of cases, your doctor will tell you that there is no underlying illness or condition. If, however, you are experiencing any of the following symptoms along with the sharp pain in your skull, it is a warning sign that you should seek medical help:

  • A particularly strong or severe icepick headache
  • Significant changes in the intensity of frequency of your headaches
  • Headaches that continue to get worse over time
  • Headache that is accompanied by pain or redness in one or both eye
  • A Headache that is debilitating
  • Headache following an injury or blow to the head
  • New type of headache that comes on after the age of 50
  • Headache that is accompanied by changes in mental capacity or personality
  • Headache that is accompanied by numbness, seizure, altered state of consciousness, slurred speech, high fever, or stiff neck

Medical Tests for Headaches

If you are experiencing a worrisome sharp pain on the left side of your head, a sharp pain on the right side of your head, or a general head pain that is causing you concern, you should schedule a visit with your doctor. There are some medical tests that can be done that may help identify the type of headache you are experiencing and possible causes.

You should know ahead of time that sharp pains to the head from icepick headaches, tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine headaches do not register on some of the headache tests. Even if you are experiencing a tremendous amount of pain, a CT scan, MRI, and EEG test will read as normal. This is because the pain you are noticing is not centered in the brain, but in the blood vessels, nerves, or muscles surrounding your skull. These types of medical imaging tests are effective at finding anomalies such as brain tumors, but don’t worry, those are rare.

Relief for Sharp Pains in the Head

sharp pain in headMost of the time, the sharp pain in the skull from an icepick headache is so brief that it is done and over with before you can even reach for some medicine. As a preventative, you could take a non-steroid, anti-inflammatory medication. Indomethacin is one that is particularly beneficial for relieving the sharp, stabbing pain of icepick headaches.

Eye strain is often linked to headache pain and even the sharp pain on one or both sides of your head. Taking care of your eyes and protecting your vision may help reduce the incidents of headaches caused by eye strain. Be sure to have your eyes examined by an eye care professional on an annual basis. And wear your glasses, especially when reading or working in front of a computer screen.

Taking steps to reduce your stress level may also help. You should get enough sleep, exercise regularly, remove stressors in your life, and adopt relaxation techniques as part of your everyday lifestyle. Yoga is a gentle exercise program that combines deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation that is effective at stress reduction.

Some headache triggers can also be connected to your lifestyle. They can include drinking red wine, eating processed foods that are high in nitrates, working in front of a computer screen all day, and having poor posture. Fortunately, these potential triggers are easily remedied with minor lifestyle adjustments such as eating properly, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding alcohol, and simply sitting up straight.

Top Related Article: How to Achieve Migraine Relief

Constant Headaches

Icepick headaches that cause sharp pains in the head are fleeting and infrequent, but in some rare cases, people experience frequent and near-constant head pain. If you are living with constant headaches, you are not doomed to a life of pain or reliance on medications. Start with your doctor, and work with him or her to uncover the root of the pain. Only then can you take the necessary steps toward pain management and a restored quality of life.

Criteria for Selecting a Headache Relief Medication

For all but the most extreme head pain, over-the-counter medication is effective. Before taking any medicine, either prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine, you should do your research. You should know the ingredients in the medication, the possible side effects, the recommended use and dosage, and if the medication will interact with other medications you are taking. As always, you should make your doctor aware of all medicine you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal medicines, and nutritional supplements.  

Top Related Article: What is Holistic Medicine? A Guide To Holistic Treatments & More

The key ingredient of the over-the-counter pain relieving medicine is your first consideration when selecting the remedy for your sharp head pain. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen as over-the-counter, pain-relieving drugs, and each one differs in how they work. Here is an overview of each one:


Aspirin, sold under such brand names as Excedrin, Bufferin, and Bayer, is comprised of acetylsalicylic acid. How acetylsalicylic acid works is it suppresses the body’s production of prostaglandins, a substance that responsible for our perception of pain. When it was invented in 1899 by chemists at the Bayer Company, aspirin was hailed as a wonder drug. It was the first pain reliever, fever reducer, and anti-inflammatory and was used for a number of ailments. It remains the most common pail reliever sold over the counter. Because it is an anticoagulant, or blood thinner, it is often taken as a heart disease preventative.

Aspirin, however, can upset your digestive tract, causing nausea and heartburn. The lining of the stomach can be damaged by prolonged aspirin use. It should not be taken by anyone with a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia because of its anti-clotting properties. Aspirin use has also been linked to Reye’s syndrome in children, a rare condition that leads to swelling of the liver and brain; therefore children should not be given aspirin.


Like aspirin, ibuprofen works by blocking prostaglandins, the blood chemicals that tell your brain that pain has been detected. Marketed under brand names such as Advil and Motrin, ibuprofen reduces pain and swelling, making it a popular over-the-counter option for headaches, arthritis, joint pain, and other afflictions.  

Ibuprofen was a latecomer to the over-the-counter pain reliever market. It was developed in England when chemists at Boots Laboratories isolated the agent in aspirin that is responsible for reducing inflammation as carboxylic acid. Armed with this data, the chemists began to look at other carboxylic acids and discovered one, propionic acid, which was more potent than aspirin. From this, they developed ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen was approved for sale in the United States in 1984, making it the newest over-the-counter pain med for sale in over three decades. Like aspirin and acetaminophen before it, ibuprofen was praised as a new wonder drug.


Most people refer to acetaminophen by its brand name, Tylenol. The biggest difference between acetaminophen and ibuprofen and aspirin is that acetaminophen does not reduce inflammation. It is, however, an effective pain reliever that is equal in the pain-relieving power of ibuprofen and aspirin.

Acetaminophen is easier on the stomach than both aspirin and ibuprofen, so it is the headache remedy of choice for people with ulcers, acid reflux, or sensitive stomachs. It is considered by most medical professionals to be a safer alternative for children. The chemical makeup of acetaminophen, however, interacts with alcohol which could then damage the liver; therefore, it is strongly advised that people refrain from drinking alcohol while taking acetaminophen.

In 1951, researchers presented findings about acetaminophen at the annual meeting of the Institute for the Study of Analgesic and Sedative Drugs. The research showed that acetaminophen was just as effective as aspirin at reducing pain but did not cause stomach discomfort. This report was celebrated as a breakthrough in pain management. Acetaminophen was made available to the public as Tylenol in 1955.


Naproxen sodium is packaged under the brand name Aleve. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug, it works by blocking the body’s production of prostaglandins in much the same way that aspirin and ibuprofen do. It is marketed as both a pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory medication.

The United States Food and Drug Administration approved naproxen to be sold by prescription only in 1980, but it was released in 1994 to be an over-the-counter drug in lower doses.

Choose a Company You Trust

Beyond selecting the type of pain reliever to treat your sharp pain in the head, you should look at the company that produces the product. There are many brand names from companies that have been in business a long time and have reputations for making top-quality, over-the-counter pain relievers. However, it is possible to get the exact same product in a generic form or from an off-brand or store brand. If you read the product’s packaging label and compare ingredients, you will often find that there is little difference between a name brand pain reliever and a store brand one.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

1. Basic Care Ibuprofen Tablets

sharp pain in head

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Brand: Basic Care

Count: 500

Pill Type: 200 mg coated tablet

Item Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces

Key Ingredient: Ibuprofen

Use: Pain reliever, fever reducer for adults and children over the age of 12

Availability: Can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to APO/FPO addresses. No international shipping.

Features: Gluten free

Best Care’s ibuprofen tablets in 200 mg are used to alleviate the sharp, shooting pain and fever of headaches, as well as aches and pains caused by arthritis, illness, over-exertion, back strain, and more. This product is similar to Advil and is considered a non-steroid anti-inflammatory, or NSAID. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

2. Kirkland Signature Brand Ibuprofen

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Brand: Kirkland Signature Brand

Count: 180

Pill Type: 200 mg liquid softgel capsules

Item Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces

Key Ingredient: Ibuprofen

Use: Pain reliever, fever reducer intended for adults and children over the age of 12

Features: Easily ingested softgel capsules

Kirkland Signature Brand of ibuprofen is made of the same high-quality ingredients that you will find in the name brand Advil but is offered at a lower cost. The liquid softgel capsules make swallowing the pills easier, and the medication is digested more quickly. If you are experiencing a sharp pain in the skull from an icepick headache, this product should help reduce the pain and provide you with relief.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

3. Advil Liqui-Gels

sharp pain in head

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Brand: Advil

Count: 160

Pill Type: 200 mg liquid-filled capsules

Item Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces

Key Ingredient: Ibuprofen

Use: Pain reliever, fever reducer for adults and children over the age of 12

Availability: Can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to APO/FPO addresses. No international shipping.

Features: liquid-filled capsules

The active ingredient in Advil is ibuprofen, a substance that is safe and effective when used as directed to alleviate pain from stabbing headaches, muscle aches, fever, toothache, and more. As an NSAID, it is also used to reduce swelling and inflammation. The Advil name is a trusted brand in the over-the-counter medication and pain reliever industry with more than 25 years in business. In addition to providing temporary relief for sharp headaches, Advil is longer lasting than many of its competitors, so you won’t need to constantly re-take the capsules.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

4. Excedrin Migraine Caplets for Migraine Pain Relief

sharp pain in head

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Brand: Excedrin

Count: 200

Pill Type: Caplets, 250 mg acetaminophen, 250 mg aspirin, 65 mg caffeine

Item Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces

Key Ingredient: Acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine

Use: Pain reliever, fever reducer for adults over the age of 18

Availability: Can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to APO/FPO addresses. No international shipping.

Features: A combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine for enhanced pain relief.

If your sharp pain in your head is the result of a migraine, Excedrin migraine caplets are effective at offering relief because they combine three key ingredients that have been proved to lessen the pain of migraine headaches: acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. Because aspirin and acetaminophen are metabolized differently in the body, they are safe to take together without a fear of overdose. The caffeine acts as a stimulant that opens up the blood vessels. Excedrin migraine caplets were the first over-the-counter migraine medicine approved by the Food and Drug Administration.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

5. Basic Care Naproxen Tablets

sharp pain in head

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Brand: Basic Care

Count: 300

Pill Type: 220 mg Tablets

Item Shipping Weight: 4 ounces

Key Ingredient: Naproxen sodium

Use: Pain reliever, fever reducer for adults and children over the age of 12

Availability: Can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to APO/FPO addresses. No international shipping.

Features: Gluten free

The naproxen sodium found in this product by Basic Care is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is effective for bringing down a fever as well as reducing the pain of headaches, muscle ache, toothache, backache, and menstrual cramps. Because naproxen sodium is a different substance than ibuprofen, it remains in the body longer and can provide pain relief for up to 12 hours. The Basic Care naproxen tablets can be compared to Aleve. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

6. Excedrin Extra Strength Caplets

sharp pain in head

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Brand: Excedrin

Count: 200

Pill Type: Caplets containing 250 mg acetaminophen, 250 mg aspirin, and 65 mg caffeine  

Item Shipping Weight: 8 ounces

Key Ingredient: Acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine

Use: Pain reliever, fever reducer for adults and children over the age of 12

Availability: Can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to APO/FPO addresses. No international shipping.

Features: A combination of three active ingredients: acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine for maximum pain fighting.

The Excedrin company has been a trusted name in the headache relief industry for more than 50 years and has built a reputation for providing safe and effective products like the Excedrin Extra Strength Caplets. The combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine has been shown to enhance pain relief from headaches and other body aches. The caffeine in the caplets helps to move the medication through the body faster, so you can get relief from pain in as little as 15 minutes. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

7. IMAK Compression Pain Relief Mask and Eye Pillow

sharp pain in head

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Brand: Brown-Med

Count: 1 mask, one-size fits all

Type: Cold therapy compression mask and eye pillow  

Item Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces

Use: Pain reliever, stress reliever, sinus pain reliever

Availability: Can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to APO/FPO addresses. No international shipping.

Features: Made of cotton/lycra fabric, freezable

A drug-free way to relieve the pain of a headache, the patented IMAK compression mask is a cool compress for your head and eyes. The dark color of the mask helps to block out the light, which is perfect if you are suffering from a light sensitive headache like a migraine. The mask is weighted to provide just enough pressure to your head and face, but the unique cross stitching in the eyes ensures that the pressure does not damage your eyes. It is filled with a bead filling that is freezable to provide added pain relief, but the cloth covering reduces the shock of an ice pack. The mask is comfortable, soothing, and the gentle pressure helps to ease the pain brought on by a headache. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

8. Migravent Migraine Relief

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Brand: Vita Science

Count: 60

Pill Type: Soft-gel capsules  

Item Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces

Key Ingredient: PA-free butterbur (Petasites hybridus), riboflavin (vitamin B2), magnesium, and coenzyme Q10

Use: Pain reliever, migraine pain reliever

Availability: Can only be shipped to addresses within the United States and to APO/FPO addresses. No international shipping.

Features: A natural nutritional supplement with a combination of herbs, vitamins, and minerals that provide migraine pain relieve without the harsh chemicals found in conventional medicines.

Migraine pain relief can be obtained without using strong, chemical-based medicines. Magravent Migraine Relief is a natural, safe, and healthy alternative to traditional over-the-counter, pain-relieving medications. The easy-to-swallow gel caps were especially formulated by Vita Science with a combination of magnesium, coenzyme Q10, vitamin B2, and PA-free butterbur that has been scientifically shown to provide relief from the pain associated with migraine headaches. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Dr. Barry

Dr. Barry

December 27, 2018