Aerobic Exercise Associated With Decreased Number of Migraine Days

Samantha DiGrande

A recent study found that aerobic exercise may be associated with a reduced number of migraine days in patients who experience migraine.

The authors noted that, on average, 18 days per year per patient with migraine are missed from work or household activities due to migraine. Researchers performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the effect of aerobic exercise in patients who experience migraine on the number of migraine days, duration, and pain intensity experienced. Researchers sought to determine the association between aerobic exercise and migraine due to the fact that exercise can play a significant role in the “modulation of pain processing,” and analgesic effects of both short- and long-term have been identified after aerobic workouts.

The study investigators searched previously published literature for studies in which patients with migraine with or without aura were randomly assigned to participate or not in aerobic exercise ≥6 weeks.

The authors were able to identify 6 studies that had evaluated the number of migraine days, attack frequency, and pain intensity or duration of migraine attacks. Within the studies, aerobic exercise included walking, jogging, a behavioral weight loss program, cycling, and a combination of cross-training, walking, jogging, and cycling. Study participants kept a log of “headache diaries,” where they wrote down symptoms that were experienced throughout the trial period.

Based on reports from 4 included studies, aerobic exercise was associated with a reduction in the number of migraine days at 10 to 12 weeks (mean reduction, 0.6±0.3 migraine days/month; P = .0006). According to unpooled data from 3 studies, researchers identified a reduction in migraine pain intensity of 20% to 54% and a decrease in attack duration of 20% to 27% after aerobic exercise. However, no conclusion of pain intensity or duration of attacks could be drawn due to “low-quality evidence.”

Overall, the researchers found that “there is moderate quality evidence that in patients with migraine aerobic exercise therapy can decrease the number of migraine days.”

Lemmons J, De Pauw J, Van Soom T, et al. The effect of aerobic exercise on the number of migraine days, duration and pain intensity in migraine: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis [published online February 14, 2019]. J Headache Pain.
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