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For the first time, a study has proven that exercise is comparable to other modalities of treatment of migraine. This is especially important for those patients who do not seem to benefit from medications or want to avoid them because of the side effects.
Ask any patient of migraine, the type of pain he has to endure during an episode, and you’ll understand that he can go to any length to prevent it. Unfortunately, treatment choices available for migraine are few and far between. Until now, topiramate has been the most successful medication available to treat migraine. However, it comes with its own set of side effects, the most common of which are tingling numbness, depression, lethargy, constipation and dizziness. But since, there are not many other options available, most of the patients of migraine grudgingly bear with these side effects. Now, for the first time, a study has proven that exercise is comparable to other modalities of treatment of migraine.

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The study, which has been published in the September issue of the journal “Cephalgia”, has concluded that aerobic exercise can be an option for the prophylactic treatment of migraine. This is especially important for those patients who do not seem to benefit from medications or want to avoid them because of the associated side effects. As it is, patients suffering from migraine have been found to be less active physically compared to other people. Following a regular schedule of exercising by these patients would not only protect them from episodes of migraine, but would also go a long way in improving their physical fitness.


Exercise is not only Free of the Deleterious Effects of Medicines but also Provides the Additional Benefit of Increased Oxygen Uptake


The present study was led by Dr. Emma Varkey from the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, University of Gothenburg. She, along with her colleagues, selected 91 women between the ages of 18 and 65 years, from a single migraine clinic in Sweden. All these women had been diagnosed with migraine by a neurologist and suffered from two to eight episodes of headache per month. The participants were randomly divided into three groups and were assigned one of the three regimens for migraine treatment, namely, aerobic exercise, relaxation therapy, or standard treatment with topiramate. All the three regimens were followed for three months, before analysis of the results.

The women who were assigned aerobic exercise were supposed to exercise for 40 minutes on a stationary bike, three times per week. The dose of topiramate was gradually increased to a maximum of 200 mg/day in women who were assigned medicines for migraine. After the end of three months, the frequency of migraine, quality of life, the amount of physical activity and the oxygen uptake of each patient was evaluated. The most important component of the results was the mean reduction in the frequency of migraine attacks.

The researchers found that there was a mean reduction of 0.93 in the frequency of migraine attacks in the exercise group. It was 0.83 in the relaxation group while it was 0.97 in the topiramate group. Therefore, they drew the conclusion that exercise is almost at par with topiramate in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.

Though the reduction in pain intensity was better with topiramate, yet exercise has its own benefits. It is not only free of the deleterious effects of medicines but also provides the additional benefit of increased oxygen uptake. Therefore, it is a great option for those patients who want to go for a non pharmacological option for preventing migraine.

  • “Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: A randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls”, Emma Varkey et al, Cephalgia, published on September 2, 2011, accessed on October 13, 2011
  • “Exercise may offer drug-free migraine prevention”, by Megan Brooks, Reuters, published on October 7, 2011, accessed on October 13, 2011
  • Photo courtesy of julishannon on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/julishannon/2809327530/