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Exercising with Migraines and Headaches: Finding Balance for Relief

Migraines and headaches can be debilitating, making it challenging to engage in physical activities. However, exercise can play a crucial role in managing these conditions by promoting overall well-being and potentially reducing the frequency and intensity of episodes. In this blog, we will explore the relationship between migraines, headaches, and exercise, and provide tips for finding a balance that promotes relief and minimizes triggers.

1. Understanding the Benefits of Exercise:

Regular exercise offers numerous benefits for individuals with migraines and headaches:

- Stress reduction: Exercise can help reduce stress levels, a common trigger for migraines and headaches.

- Improved mood: Physical activity releases endorphins, which can enhance mood and alleviate symptoms associated with migraines and headaches.

- Enhanced sleep quality: Regular exercise can improve sleep patterns, reducing the likelihood of migraines and headaches triggered by sleep disturbances.

- Increased cardiovascular health: Engaging in aerobic exercises can improve cardiovascular health, potentially reducing the risk of migraines and headaches associated with poor blood flow. 2. Finding the Right Exercise Routine:

When incorporating exercise into your routine, it's important to consider the following factors: - Start slowly: Begin with low-impact exercises, such as walking or swimming, and gradually increase intensity and duration as tolerated.

- Choose migraine-friendly activities: Opt for exercises that are less likely to trigger migraines or headaches, such as yoga, tai chi, or gentle stretching.

- Maintain consistency: Regular exercise is key to reaping the benefits. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

- Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body responds to different exercises. If a particular activity triggers migraines or headaches, modify or avoid it.

3. Exercise Precautions:

While exercise can be beneficial, it's important to take precautions to minimize the risk of triggering migraines or headaches:

- Stay hydrated: Dehydration can be a trigger, so drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.

- Warm-up and cool-down: Gradually warm up your body before exercising and cool down afterward to minimize the risk of sudden changes in blood flow.

- Avoid excessive exertion: Intense workouts or sudden bursts of activity can potentially trigger migraines or headaches. Pace yourself and listen to your body's limits.

- Consider timing: Some individuals find that exercising in the morning or early afternoon is less likely to trigger migraines or headaches compared to evening workouts.

4. Post-Exercise Recovery:

Proper post-exercise recovery is essential for individuals with migraines and headaches:

- Stretch and relax: Engage in gentle stretching and relaxation techniques after exercise to help release tension and reduce the risk of post-workout headaches.

- Apply cold or heat: If you experience soreness or muscle tension after exercise, applying a cold pack or warm compress to the affected area may provide relief.

- Rest and hydrate: Allow your body time to rest and recover after exercise, and ensure you drink enough water to stay hydrated.

Exercise can be a valuable tool in managing migraines and headaches, promoting overall well-being and potentially reducing the frequency and intensity of episodes. By finding the right exercise routine, taking precautions, and prioritizing post-exercise recovery, individuals can strike a balance that promotes relief and minimizes triggers. Remember, it's important to consult with

healthcare professionals for personalized advice and to ensure exercise is safe and appropriate for your specific condition. With a mindful approach, exercise can become an integral part of your migraine and headache management plan, contributing to improved quality of life.

Raelene Clark B.Sc.,M.Sc.Med.(Orofacial Pain Management) is a graduate of the University of Sydney School of Medicine and Dentistry, Pain Management Program, having completed the Orofacial Pain stream. Raelene is the only Western Australian therapist with this qualification, and there are only 3 in Australia is this highly specialised clinical area. She works from Medika Health Clinic where she treats acute headache and migraine, and at Painless Clinic where she works as part of an interdisciplinary team providing care and treatment for those with chronic, or long-term multifactorial head and neck pain conditions. She has over 30 years experience in this field and is happy to be the guide by the side with patients on their journey to reclaiming their life from acute and chronic head pain. Raelene can be contacted at

References Hindiyeh, N. A., Krusz, J. C., & Cowan, R. P. (2013). Does Exercise Make Migraines Worse and Tension Type Headaches Better? Current Pain and Headache Reports, 17(12). Krøll, L. S., Hammarlund, C. S., Linde, M., Gard, G., & Jensen, R. H. (2018). The effects of aerobic exercise for persons with migraine and co-existing tension-type headache and neck pain. A randomized, controlled, clinical trial. Cephalalgia, 38(12), 1805–1816. Krøll, L. S., Sjödahl Hammarlund, C., Gard, G., Jensen, R. H., & Bendtsen, L. (2018). Has aerobic exercise effect on pain perception in persons with migraine and coexisting tension-type headache and neck pain? A randomized, controlled, clinical trial. European Journal of Pain, 22(8), 1399–1408. Narin, S. O., Pinar, L., Erbas, D., Oztürk, V., & Idiman, F. (2003). The effects of exercise and exercise-related changes in blood nitric oxide level on migraine headache. Clinical Rehabilitation, 17(6), 624–630. Varangot-Reille, C., Suso-Martí, L., Romero-Palau, M., Suárez-Pastor, P., & Cuenca-Martínez, F. (2021). Effects of Different Therapeutic Exercise Modalities on Migraine or Tension-Type Headache: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis with a Replicability Analysis. The Journal of Pain.

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