Exercise can bring on severe headaches in some individuals who suffer from migraines, but a new study from Sweden suggests that for many, exercise may work as well as prescription drugs to prevent the painful headaches. For their study, the researchers, from the University of Gothenberg in Sweden recruited 91 migraine patients and divided them into three groups. One group was assigned to exercise for 40 minutes three times a week under the supervision of a physiotherapist. The second group performed relaxation exercises, and patients in the third group received topiramate, a drug often prescribed for migraine prevention. The study lasted for three months, during which the researchers tracked the patients’ migraine status, quality of life, aerobic capacity and level of physical activity. Follow up evaluations were completed three and six months later. The results showed that the number of migraines declined in all three groups, but no differences were seen between the preventive measures - all three worked equally well. The study was published in the October 2011 issue of the journal Cephalgia.
My take? These new findings are good news for those who suffer from migraine headaches. The methods studied add to the range of approaches to prevention and relief already available. Unfortunately, no single method works dependably for all patients - finding what's effective for an individual often requires some trial and error. In addition to the drugs that conventional physicians recommend to treat migraines, several alternative treatments can help relieve and prevent these severe headaches. A study published in the December 28, 2004, issue of Neurology found that patients who took two 75 mg tablets of the herb butterbur (Petasites hybridus) cut headache occurrence by an average of 48 percent (compared to 26 percent among patients who received a placebo). And a Belgian study published in the February 1998 issue of Neurology found that 400 mg of vitamin B2 reduces the frequency and duration of migraines. Biofeedback training can also help, and I welcome the news that both exercise and relaxation have been shown effective.