Exercise and Migraines

Methods for Migraine Prevention


We’re often raving about the benefits of various types of exercise.  Yoga, running, strength-training, spinning--the list seems endless and continues to grow.  In some people, exercise has had incredible effects on symptoms of chronic disease.  But for some, exercise also causes migraines. 

If you suffer from migraines, you know that they are painful, debilitating headaches that can interrupt your entire day.  So, how does exercise affect the brain?  And how can exercise exacerbate or prevent migraines?  We asked Dr. Ashok Patel, Medical Director of the Memory and Aging Center of Toms River, NJ, for more information.

Some of us go for a run with no issue, and we even feel better afterward.  What happens differently in people with migraines?

So, actually, exercise seems to counteract the severity of migraines in some people, while exacerbating the migraines of others.  Exercise has tremendous benefits to your circulation, getting blood flowing everywhere and boosting immunity, plus regulating breathing, hormones, and strengthening bone and muscle. 

With migraines, the effects would be easier to explain if we knew the entire pathway from trigger to migraine, but we don’t know yet.  Some believe migraines are caused by neuronal overstimulation, others believe they’re a vascular problem.  Most believe migraines are caused by both--no one knows the exact mechanism yet.  What we do know is that there are ways to treat and prevent migraines.  Ideally, avoid the exact trigger, eat right, stay hydrated, and exercise just enough. 

If we’re unsure of our trigger(s), what’s the best way to differentiate them?

The best way to differentiate between triggers is to pay close attention to your environment and actions before, during, and after each migraine occurs.  When you feel a migraine coming, take note of what you’ve eaten within the last few hours, where you’ve been or what you’ve been doing. Then track the events over time.  Eventually a pattern will become clear.

And if exercise is our trigger, then how can we cope with it?

Exercise isn’t a trigger that people should avoid.  First, see if there’s a certain exertion level or type of exercise that causes or exacerbates your migraine.  If there is, then avoid overexertion.  On the other hand, if, say, running in general seems to cause a migraine, then switch to other options, like yoga or biking.  Sometimes, taking NSAIDs before exercising prevents migraines.  But because the effects are different for different people, consult your physician for the right treatment regimen.

Are medications available to prevent or help treat migraines?

Acetaminophen or ibuprofen or other NSAIDs should help with mild attacks. For severe or chronic migraines, prescription medications are available.  Your doctor can learn which medication suits you best, based on your history and their knowledge of all your options.  If you’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to work, clinical trials are also available.  There’s a chance that you don’t have to live with so much pain.  

 Consult your physician immediately if your headaches are recurring or debilitating, or if one is debilitatingly painful for a very short amount of time (seconds to a minute).

For a free consultation, schedule an appointment with us today (732) 244-2299