Sports Therapy and Pilates

Will Exercise Help My Headache?

“Will exercise help my headache?” is a common search question on search engines. Headaches can be incredibly debilitating and the thought of starting an exercise session with a pounding head can be off putting. But the right form of exercise could help to relieve that pounding, throbbing headache and make you feel better.

A headache is defined as a pain arising from the head or upper neck. The pain originates from the tissues and structures that surround the skull or brain, or from the neck also. The pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp throbbing intense pain. There are three primary types of headaches. They are tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches.

1. Tension Headaches:

These are the most common type and occur most commonly among women. Symptoms include pain on both sides of the head, neck ache, muscular tightness and a feeling of pressure behind the eyes. According to the World Health Organisation, 1:20 people in the world will suffer with a daily tension headache.

2. Migraine Headaches:

These are a moderate to severe throbbing pain on one side of the head. Symptoms also include feeling and being sick, and an increased sensitivity to light and sound.

3. Cluster Headaches:

These are excruciating attacks of pain in one side of the head. Often felt around the eye, temple and sometimes the face.

Will Exercise Help My Headache?

Exercise can often bring on headaches or migraine attacks. The general advice to avoid this is to start your exercise session well hydrated. That you warm up properly with some stretching and that you cool down afterwards. Exercise induced headaches can be triggered by suddenly starting strenuous exercises. This dilates blood vessels inside the skull.

What Exercise Might Help My Headaches?

Stretching can reduce muscular tightness and tension in the head, neck and upper back by increasing blood flow around the body. It stimulates the circulation of blood to the head and helps maintain neuro-musculoskeletal flexibility within the neck and upper back structures. Tight muscles can trigger headaches, as they will alter the alignment of the cervical spine. This puts pressure on nerves and decreases blood flow to the head.

Try these simple neck stretches at home to ease muscular tightness and help increase blood flow. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.

Neck Rotation:              Lateral Flexion:  Levator Scapulae:      Pecs:


Maintaining good posture during the day, at your desk, in the car, when standing or exercising can also help to relieve muscular tightness. Regular Pilates can help strengthen the core muscles and upper back and neck muscles, leading to a correction in bad posture. Having good stability around the shoulder blades and upper back will promote good spinal alignment and reduces pressure on the muscles in those areas. Over time this could reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines. Achieve good posture by drawing the shoulders back. Imagine lengthening and opening your collar bones and drawing your shoulder blades down your back. Your ears should be inline with your shoulders and the crown of your head pointing to ceiling. Imagine dropping your chin slightly and lengthening the back of the neck.

Try these simple Pilates exercises at home to help strengthen your upper back and neck and develop good postural spinal alignment. Aim for 8-10 reps of each.

Chin Tuck:                      Breast Stroke Preps:        Swan Dive:        Arm Openings:


With specific neck and upper back exercises to target spinal alignment and posture, headaches and migraines could become less frequent and less painful. Contact Real Motion Sports Injury Management and Pilates to book a Pilates session today and see if this type of exercise benefits you, your body and your health.

Written by Rhea Malkin BSc (Hons) Sports Therapist MSST and APPI and STOTT Reformer Pilates Instructor.

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