Migraine Days, Intensity Reduced by Aerobic Exercise Therapy

By David Quaile, /alert Contributor
Save to PDF By

Aerobic exercise therapy may reduce the number of migraine days among patients with frequent migraines, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Headache and Pain.

“Worldwide, migraine is the second most disabling disorder. Additionally, in the age group 15–49 years, migraine is the top cause of years lived with disability, magnifying its impact on the working population. On average eighteen days per year per migraine patient are missed from work or household activities,” Willem De Hertogh, MD, from the department of rehabilitation sciences and physiotherapy, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium, and colleagues wrote in the study. “The rationale for using aerobic exercise in migraine is based on the fact that exercise can play a substantial role in the modulation of pain processing. Moreover, the analgesic effects of both short-term and long-term aerobic exercise have been observed at both a central and peripheral level.”


Aerobic exercise. Source: Getty

The researchers conducted a systematic review and metanalysis to summarize literature published after 2004 on the effectiveness of aerobic exercise in migraine and determine the effect of aerobic exercise on the number of migraine days, duration and pain intensity in patients with migraine.

According to the study, the number of patients enrolled in the different studies ranged from 16 to 110 and had a total of 357 patients with migraine. The average age of patients included in the study was 38 years with a female majority patient population.

The researchers screened three online databases using predefined inclusion as well as exclusion criteria. A total of six studies were retained and pooling of data was performed.

At baseline, the mean headache frequency was 9.4 days per month with an average disease duration of 19 years, according to De Hertogh and colleagues.

The review showed significant reductions in the number of migraine days after aerobic exercise treatment with a mean reduction of 0.6 ± 0.3 migraine days/month, however, due to heterogeneity of outcome measurements, other outcomes were too variable to pool.

The unpooled data revealed small to moderate reductions in attack duration (20-27%) and pain intensity (20-54%) after aerobic exercise intervention.

According to De Hertogh and colleagues, while the clinical relevance of the findings from the meta-analysis are low, it may be of interest when added to the value of current usual care.

“Major gaps exist in the current knowledge on the effect of aerobic exercise on patients with migraine” the researchers wrote. “Further research to study the effects reported in this systematic review are mandatory to unravel the mechanisms of physical training on migraine.”