Migraine and Exercise: What does the research say?

Migraine is a complex chronic debilitating condition, far more than just a headache. There are multiple types and no clear cause and effect, with multiple potential triggers and multiple treatment/management options. There are still many theories floating around but they still do not understand exactly what is going on during a migraine attack which is ultimately why there is no cure.

Everyone’s experience of Migraine is different which is why no one form of exercise will be right for everyone and for some exercise can increase symptoms. However research has shown that exercise can be beneficial for some of us who suffer with migraines. Although there are no forms of exercise specifically contraindicated with migraines, the main forms that are recommended include walking, swimming, cycling, yoga, pilates and Tai chi.

What does the research say?

- Touche (2020) completed a systemic review of the randomized controlled trials and found there was low to moderate quality evidence that in patients with migraine, aerobic activity can decrease pain intensity, frequency and duration of migraine and also increase the quality of life

- Lemmens (2019) also did a systemic review and found moderate quality evidence that in patients with migraine, aerobic exercise therapy can decrease the number of migraine days. However opposing the above study, they found that no conclusion on pain intensity or duration of attacks can be drawn from the research

- Amin (2018) showed in their systemic review that low levels of regular exercise can have a prophylactic effect on migraine attacks. Although noted more research was needed on the frequency and intensity of the exercise

- Machado Oliveria (2020) tried to look at narrowing down the parameters of what kind of intensity or type or frequency of exercise was beneficial, however although they again found exercise was positive, the studies presented inconclusive data about specific exercise parameters.

- Gil-Martinez (2013) looked at the effects of therapeutic exercise and physiotherapy interventions and found that this was a safe and effective treatment option for migraine. It lowered the intensity, frequency and duration of pain in patients. However they agreed that more research was needed to clarify these results.

The main thing clear with most of the current studies is the lack of clear guidelines on the type of exercise, the frequency, intensity and duration is required to have a beneficial effect. All