A new study gives hope to migraine sufferers who fear that workouts and headaches go hand-in-hand.
The Swedish study, which was published in October 2011 in the international headache journal Cephalalgia, shows that consistent exercise may help prevent migraines just as well as relaxation therapy or the drug topiramate.
Relaxation techniques and topiramate (marketed as Topamax) are well-documented migraine treatments, but the researchers noted that previous studies offer conflicting evidence about whether exercise promotes or prevents migraines.
The Swedish study included 91 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65. Each participant had two to eight migraines per month prior to the study. They were placed into three groups: relaxation, drug and exercise.
The relaxation group did five- to 20-minute relaxation sessions, incorporating breathing and stress-management techniques, with a physiotherapist once a week. The drug group took up to 200 mg a day of topiramate. The exercise group rode an exercise bike for 40 minutes three times a week. Each session included a 15-minute warm-up, a 20-minute workout and a five-minute cool down.
The study lasted 12 weeks, with three- and six-month follow-ups. In the last month of the study, researchers found that the number of migraines was reduced by 0.83 in the relaxation group, 0.93 in the exercise group and 0.97 in the drug group. These numbers are statistically the same, leading researchers to conclude that each type of treatment is equally effective at reducing migraines.
The researchers concluded that exercise may be a viable option for “patients who do not benefit from or do not want to take daily medication.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that taking topiramate may increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and pregnant women who use the drug have an elevated risk of giving birth to a child with a cleft lip or cleft palate.
Read Dr. Murray’s suggestions for the treatment of Migraine Headache