Imagine a scene that may be familiar to you: You are moving through your day when suddenly, a migraine hits. You may have to call into school or work. You may become nauseous or dizzy. You feel pain in your head and neck. You may even only be able to feel better if you lay down in a dark, soundless room alone and wait for the migraine to pass or your medication to begin working. Migraines are a debilitating condition with over 3 million US cases each year and become very common from age 6 to above 60. But did you know there are more options for you than just medications and lifestyle changes? Physical Therapy is a worthy option to assist in the treatment and may even help you get better faster.
Often migraines are treated with medications to prevent migraines and used during a migraine attack. Migraineurs also track their pain and look for triggers related to stress or a specific food. However, migraines can be complicated by pain, tension, and headache symptoms from the neck. Physical therapists are musculoskeletal experts and are highly capable of examining the spine and surrounding muscles for contributing factors to these complaints. A physical therapist will assess your range of motion by looking at how you move your neck. If it is limited, they can further examine joints and muscle tone for restrictions contributing to those limitations. Manual or hands-on treatment can improve mobility and decrease muscle tone, allowing an opportunity to reduce pain and use exercises to retrain and strengthen muscles.
Your posture or how you sit, or stand may also play a role in exacerbating your migraines. There is no perfect posture but staying in prolonged positions working at a desk or in a car can contribute to stiffness and pain in the spine Physical therapists can provide exercises that can improve restrictions in your posture and improve your ability to hold these positions. Another great tip is setting a timer or your smartwatch to make sure you get up and move, even for a couple of minutes each hour.
Finally, a unique trait of migraines could be dizziness- especially in the younger populations. A physical therapist specializing in vestibular therapy can help assess and treat findings related to dizziness to complement other physician-led treatments.
It is very important to note that each assessment will be detailed to you, the patient and that each treatment will be individualized to assist in reaching your goals. Research has been done regarding both manual treatment in physical therapy for migraines and an adjunct treatment to other therapies.3,4 In reviewing these studies, it is clear that more higher quality research needs to be completed. However, initial studies do show improvements when physical therapy is used as an adjunct to relaxation treatments as well as pharmacological treatments led by a neurologist or headache specialist.
Additionally, there is research that aerobic exercise can decrease migraine severity, frequency, and duration. Physical therapists can help design a walking program or other cardiovascular exercises to improve self-management of chronic symptoms.2
Physical therapy can be the right addition to your migraine treatment approaches. It can help improve your symptoms, movement, and posture. It can assist in empowering you, as the patient, in exercises for strength as well as aerobic exercise to manage chronic symptoms. It can lead to a lifestyle with fewer days restricted to a dark room and away from the life, you enjoy. Please consider seeing a physical therapist that specializes in spine and headache symptoms.
Free assessments are available both in-clinic and virtually through our telehealth platform.
*Per federal guidelines, beneficiaries of plans such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, VHA and other federally funded plans are not eligible for free assessments.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. The facts about migraine. American Migraine Foundation. (2020, September 21). Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/migraine-facts/
2. The effects of exercise and exercise related changes in blood nitric oxide level on migraine headache. Clinical rehabilitation 2003: 17: 624-630. S Osun Narin, L Pinar.
3. Manual Therapies for migraine: a systematic review. Alekzander Chaibi et all. J Headache Pain (2022) 12:127-133
4. Nonpharmacological treatment for migraine: incremental utility of physical therapy with relaxation and thermal biofeedback. DA Marcus, L. Scharff, S Mercer, DC Turk. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pain and Evaluation and Treatment Institute, 4601 Baum Blvd Pittsburgh PA 15213 USA. Received 26 November 1997; Accepted 29 January 1998.