Ask an Exercise Physiologist: Help With Migraine Treatment

Posted on Jul 29, 2021

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This week we have a complex migraine question, so we’re going to unpack it thoroughly and answer just one question this week.

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My 19 year old daughter has migraines all the time. Is there any exercise that can help her with this? She also takes drugs for anxiety and depression.

I want her to try alternative methods to help her out in the long run.

– Lyn, 55

Disclaimer: The Ask an Exercise Physiologist column is exercise and lifestyle focus and is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Hello Lyn,

First, your daughter is incredibly lucky to have you as a supportive mother. Having a helpful, loving support system around them is part of the migraine battle.

I often refer to migraine management as a “prevention puzzle” – the goal is to put the complicated pieces together. Let’s talk about the rest of the puzzle.

To answer your specific question (before I distract myself on a tangent!), I find preventative exercises helpful (for many of my patients) – focus on mobility and optimal neck movements, then move on to a specific graded strengthening.

Sometimes facet joint dysfunction in the upper neck can contribute to headaches and trigger migraines. However, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle I’m about to unpack. I would highly recommend consulting a team of health professionals allied who can all work together on the migraine puzzle. Before booking an exam, check to see if they specialize in migraines (exercise physiologist, physical therapist, chiropractor, or osteopath, all of whom communicate with one another).

Here is a beginner’s neck and shoulder mobility program to get your daughter started (I didn’t add any strength exercise as I felt it needed close monitoring):

  • Breath control
  • Chin wrinkles
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Cervical spine lateral neck stretch

I will have a two minute demonstration IGTV clip for you in the next week stopping by on Instagram.

I would strongly recommend trying hydrotherapy (in a controlled environment, not in a public swimming pool with splashes and loud noises) for three months. I’ve seen hydrotherapy work its migraine magic for over 15 years. Again, it’s only part of the puzzle.

Soaking in warm water will help improve your daughters quality of life, reduce potential future episodes, and reduce the frequency and severity. The warm water helps with optimal neck movement and function as well as with dysfunction of the facet joints. Not only does it help reduce tension and control stress, it also focuses on alignment and postural stability.

Hydrotherapy can also focus on strengthening the neck (with good treatment) while being assisted by the warm water. At Capital Hydrotherapy we have neck swimmers who are great for migraine management and allow the client to manage their pain on their own which is a bonus.

Empowerment and prevention tools are an important piece of the puzzle for your daughter to know that she is on the right track.

Here are some other factors to consider:

  • Bad posture. I would recommend a full body alignment assessment by an allied doctor. How we sit, stand and walk all day affects our neck. I have to emphasize that it is only part of the “prevention puzzle”, but it certainly contributes to it.
  • Hormonal imbalance. Has your daughter tracked her migraine pattern? It would be very beneficial to see a hormone specialist. A naturopath could help in this area as well (since you asked about alternative methods). I am sure that in the comment section on social media we will find a lot of nice people who will give you advice on which practitioners have helped them.
  • Soft tissue therapy (massage) as a regular preventive measure. I would recommend Clinic 88 and Myogen for massage management.
  • Bad ergonomics (or working posture). Is your daughter ergonomically correct at home? Has she been trained in “text necks” and how to properly hold a device? I have another HerCanberra article on the same topic that may be useful (to hear from an Allied Health Professional, not her mom 😉 Here is the link: text-neck-and-how-do-you-solve-it?

I hope this column has helped put some pieces of the puzzle together.

Start with one change, stick with it for a while, reevaluate it, and then add another piece.

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The information provided by Ask an Exercise Physiologist is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Her Canberra advises our community to consult a doctor or healthcare provider for more specific medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.