cold water swimming ice cream headacheBrrrr, the water temperature as I mentioned a few days ago is still around the 17-18 degree mark and pretty much during nearly every cold water swimming session I get an ice cream headache…  I was trying to explain this to a non-swimmer over the weekend and was struggling to explain why, I just know it happens.  Hence this blog post the result of my research into why a cold water swimming ice cream headache occurs.

There are three main areas of the body that leak heat when you are in cold water: your head, armpits, and your groin area – this would explain why when walking into the ocean the first wave that splashes my groin feels the coldest… brrr

The actual ice cream headache or brain freeze pain comes from blood vessels contracting very vigorously, this can happen when you eat something cold and the palate on the roof of your mouth spasms, or from cold water on your face or head.  The cold water causes your previously expanded blood vessels in your face (especially on a warm air temperature day) to contract and potentially spasm. Just like in an ice cream headache from eating something cold it causes pain all over your face and head.

Cold Water Swimming Ice Cream headache

When I go cold water swimming, and yes I know that my 17-18 degree water temperature at the moment is not cold water for some places, I get an initial shock.  I usually then manage 4 or 5 strokes before I have to come up for heat.  But after I’ve done this 3 or 4 times my body has realised what is going on and has acclimatised, well when I say acclimatised the blood vessels in my face stay contracted to reduce heat loss so I don’t have the spasming of the cells contracting each time I go under.

I do find that if I stop swimming, whether it is for a chat or to wait for someone and then go back under a few minutes later I again get that initial SHOCK, the blood vessels in my face contract and spasm and the headache is back!

The good thing about the cold water swimming ice cream headache is that it doesn’t last long, a few minutes usually.  For me it is definitely the worst part about cold water swimming, the cold water on my legs is refreshing, on my hands is chilly but my head OW!

Do you suffer from an ice cream headache while swimming?  Any solutions?


PS I warmed up after my swim in the Green Ocean Waves LOLL today!

One thought on “Why Cold Water Swimming Gives You an Ice Cream Headache…. arrrrhhh

  1. Gretel says:

    My daughter complains of a severe head ache once she enters the water and takes a dip, hence stopped her swimming class abruptly, please suggest to get rid of this.

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