Exercise Just as Effective as Drugs in Preventing Migraines

Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Friday, October 14, 2011
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New research from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden indicates that exercise can be just as effective as drug treatments for the prevention of migraines.

In terms of pharmaceutical treatments, a drug based on the substance topiramate has proven effective in preventing migraines, along with non-medical treatments such as relaxation exercises.

Although exercise is often prescribed as a treatment for migraine, there had previously been a lack of data supporting its efficacy. In a randomized controlled study, a team of researchers from the University of Gothenburg lead by Emma Varkey analyzed data from 91 patients with migraine to determine whether exercise can work as a preventative treatment for migraines relative to relaxation exercises and topiramate.

In the study, which is published in the journal Cephalalgia, one-third of the patients were instructed to exercise for 40 minutes three times a week under the supervision of a physiotherapist. Another third performed relaxation exercises, and the final third was given topiramate. During the 3-month study period, patients’ migraine status, quality of life, aerobic capacity and level of phyical activity were evaluated before, during, and after their treatment. Follow-ups were then carried out after 3 and 6 months.

The results found that frequency of migraines decreased in all three groups, and that there was no difference in the preventative effect between the three treatments. Although topiramate fared better than relaxation therapy and exercise in terms of reducing the severity of migraine pain, it was associated with side effects, including depressed mood, vertigo, and constipation.

The authors concluded that exercise can act as an alternative to relaxations and topiramate for the prevention of migraines, and is particularly appropriate for patients who are unwilling or unable to take preventative medications.

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