Happy National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month! According to the American Migraine Association, one billion people worldwide are living with a migraine disorder. Wow, who knew that so many people were living with such a debilitating disease that had such an impact on your life. When you have a migraine or headache disorder people often want to help and think they are when they give you suggestions like have you tried Yoga or maybe you should up your exercise intensity to get some relief., Unless your my doctor I can guarantee you I have tried whatever suggestion you are about to tell me and if I haven’t there is probably a reason for it. Yoga can help manage some pain but I still have pain even after doing Yoga so I guess Yoga is not the cure for migraine and headache disorders after all! Exercise can help manage a migraine or headache disorders but if you are not careful it could make it worse and trigger an attack. Finding the right exercise has been difficult for me since struggling with frequent headaches and migraines so here are some things that I have found helpful when trying to stay active while always trying to avoid pain.
Start slow- If you are new to exercise the last thing you want to do is jump into a crazy hard routine. It can not only trigger a migraine attack but can also cause injury for those with or without chronic conditions. When I first decided I wanted to get into shape I thought that if I pushed myself to do that advanced moves I would get in better shape and have better results but the opposite happened and I just ended up injuring myself. Advanced is more effective than beginner workouts because they are much harder and will burn more calories but not if you are doing them incorrectly. Don’t shy away from beginner routines because they will prepare you from something harder a little bit down the road. Start slow and if that means only doing ten minutes of exercise that is okay because you will get stronger and be able to do more with consistency! Too much too soon will trigger migraine attacks and it’s just not worth doing something you are not ready for just to impress your friends.
Go easy with the weights– Weight lifting has a lot of health benefits and can improve your muscle mass making your more toned but for many migraineurs, it will not be your friend. I am not going to lie I weightlift but I am very mindful of how much I am lifting, and my form because if I am not I could trigger an attack so I don’t go crazy with it by lifting as heavy as I possibly can to get the most out of my workout. Weight training has improved my strength but I go at it slow and started with very light weights and as I get stronger have progressed to slightly heavier ones while avoiding pain. You always want to start with something lighter to not only avoid injury but also to avoid overwhelming your body and triggering an attack.
Check your form- When you workout especially when focusing on your upper body it is important that you make sure your form is correct because if it isn’t all you could be doing is tensing your muscles and not making them any stronger but instead causing neck pain that could eventually lead to headaches or migraines. My migraine pain isn’t caused by my exercises but it will all start in my neck and jaw. Sometimes I can get some relief by exercising but not if I am doing exercises incorrectly so to make sure everything is aligned and I am doing everything right I workout with to Youtube videos so I am reminded of good and bad form and am able to correct bad form before the pain has gotten a chance to strike. If I am still unsure still I since I don’t have a mirror to check my form sometimes I record myself just to see how I look with some exercises.
Stick to resistance training- When people watch me workout they often think I lift too heavy because they think I just one day decided I will lift heavy weights and worry I don’t know what I am doing and will get injured. I didn’t one day just decide I was going to lift heavy weights and it took years of training to get to where I am today and actually the first year of my fitness journey I didn’t lift weights at all but stuck strictly to resistance training only. It wasn’t until the second year of my fitness journey that I started to improve my strength and I started to incorporate light five pounds weight and since then I have progressed to where I am now. People tend to underestimate the power bodyweight resistance training exercises like arm circles and push-ups but if they are done right it can be more effective than you think if that is your only option.
Hydrate– Everyone should try and stay hydrated but if you have a migraine or headache disorder and are about to workout it is especially important for preventing attacks. If you don’t hydrate before and after your workout you could become dizzy because you aren’t replenishing the water your body lost during your workout triggering an attack. I avoid this by drinking a glass of water an hour before I workout and one after I workout depending on hard I pushed my body. If I only did a few simple stretches I probably don’t need to drink tons of water to replenish my body because you won’t sweat like you would if you did a HIIT workout!
Listen to your body- People often will tell migraineurs or those with headache disorders to just push through and hit the gym because this will pass when you get moving! This is absolutely horrible advice and although light exercise can help manage conditions sometimes it’s not what your body needs and doing so can aggravate symptoms This is not always true and what you should be telling them to do is listen to their body not to ignore pain because having that mindset can make pain that is already bad a whole lot worse. Encourage people to take rest days when they need it and exercise when they can because only you know what you’re capable of and what your not!
Stick to low-intensity routines- People often think that Yoga and other low-intensity routines cure migraines and headache disorder but if it did medication to manage these conditions would not exist so we need to stop suggesting this like it’s the cure because it’s anything but that! Yoga or other low-intensity routines can help manage these conditions but it will not take the pain away and for some people, it will do little to nothing for your pain and will just keep you sane. Personally, I benefit more from Pilates more than I do yoga but I still do some yoga stretches. Both forms will give you many benefits and if you don’t like either one there are so many other low-intensity options like walking that you could try.
Stretch- My migraine pain started to worsen so my occupational therapist started to give me a deep tissue massage to see if that would help relieve some migraine pain. We only just started doing this so I am still not sure how much this will help but what I do know is when you don’t stretch you get tight which could cause tension triggering a headache or migraine attack. Not everyone will be able to get a deep tissue massage like I am able to but if you stretch you might be able to prevent attacks and not need it.
Working out can help manage headaches and migraine pain but despite what most people think exercise helps manage symptoms but is not the cure for migraine and headache disorders. For some, it does nothing for your pain while others you have to be on full bed rest and it is no even an option. Migraineurs and people with headache disorders try really hard to stay as active as possible but sometimes the pain makes it really hard and there is no simple solution to fix it because you can’t just push through a workout if you are having a hight pain day. High pain days aren’t like lacking motivation from not wanting to go to work and doing it anyways but you will actually make it worse by pushing through. I like to work out and most of the time I could push myself to do one when I am not feeling up to it but the consequences I would feel an hour later or even the next day wouldn’t be worth it for the pain I would feel for the next several days! It can be frustrating to have to take a rest day when you don’t really want to and sometimes you have no choice because it’s either a workout or low pain but you can’t have both! Choosing to work out and not have pain is not going to be an option and it’s your choice on whether or not you choose to ignore your pain or listen to your body but you will feel a huge difference and recover much faster when you don’t try and tough it out. How do you stay active while living with a headache or migraine disorder?