senior man outside exercising with a group

Research suggests that getting regular, moderate exercise can reduce the frequency of migraines. The only problem is that for many people, exercise also serves as a migraine trigger. If you get headaches after exercise, it reduces the effectiveness of using exercise to reduce headaches. But it doesn’t have to. If you approach exercise in the right way, you can eliminate most of the factors that serve to trigger your migraines and related types of headaches.

If these approaches don’t work, your headaches may be related to temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD). In that case, TMJ treatment may prevent exercise headaches. Columbia, SC TMJ dentist Dr. Adam Hahn can help you determine whether your exercise headaches will respond to TMJ treatment.

Exercise Reduces Migraine Frequency

If you suffer episodic or chronic migraines, you are likely looking for preventive treatments to reduce your migraine days. The most common approach to reducing migraines is prescription medications.

However, prescription medications come with multiple side effects, which can disrupt your productivity and routine. That’s why many people in Columbia are looking for drug-free options for preventing migraines. Exercise represents a powerful alternative to medications, and numerous studies show that regular exercise of numerous types can reduce your migraine headache risk.

In a 2011 study, people exercising for 40 minutes three times a week saw headache reduction that was comparable to the daily use of topiramate at the “highest tolerable dose.” While a third of people taking medication experienced adverse events (several so bad that they dropped out of the study), none of the participants assigned to exercise reported adverse events.

In a 2022 study, people who practiced Tai Chi for an hour a day, five days a week, experienced three fewer migraine attacks a month. They also reported less intense and shorter headaches.

Also, in 2022, two systematic reviews showed that aerobic exercise resulted in significant benefits for migraine sufferers. One review showed that aerobic exercise reduced the length of headache attacks. The other review showed that strength training and aerobic exercise both reduced the frequency of migraine headaches much more than the use of topiramate.

With these demonstrated benefits of exercise for migraine sufferers, it’s no wonder that exercise is commonly recommended for migraine prevention.

Unfortunately, as much as 22% of migraine sufferers report exercise as a migraine trigger. Can people who report this avoid headaches after working out?

How to Prevent Exercise Headaches

If you approach your routine properly, you can prevent exertion headaches, including migraines. Here are a few ways that people with migraines in Columbia, SC can get the benefits of exercise without putting themselves at too much risk for a headache.

  • Warm-up: Except for our dedicated exercise time, many of us lead a pretty inactive life. If you jump suddenly into a high level of activity, this could lead to a headache, including a migraine.
  • Moderate temperatures: Exercising in extreme temperatures can increase your risk of headaches. You can prevent headaches after working out by doing your workout at moderate temperatures.
  • Hydrate: Dehydration is a common cause of headaches, including migraines. If you want to avoid headaches, always make sure you’re hydrating in a way appropriate to your exercise level and environment.
  • Eat right: Many people looking to lose weight will start a diet and exercise program at the same time. This can be hard on your body. Ensure you’re feeding your exercise needs so you don’t end up with low blood sugar, which can lead to headaches.
  • Be a regular: Exertional headaches and migraines are more common if you’re not exercising according to a strict schedule. Set up a regular routine and stick to it.
  • Vary your routine: If certain types of exercise tend to trigger your headaches, try something different.
  • Know your limits: If you push yourself too hard, you’re going to get an exertional headache. This can also act as a migraine trigger.
  • Block out the light: Bright light is also a migraine trigger. If you’re exercising when the sun is bright, wear sunglasses and/or a hat that shields your eyes.
  • Sleep well: Getting enough sleep can help you avoid headaches after working out.

These tips may prevent exercise headaches.

TMJ Treatment Can Prevent Exercise Headaches in Columbia, SC

If you’re still developing headaches as a result of exercise, there may be another cause: TMJ. During exercise, your jaw plays an important role. It may seem crazy, but whenever you try to keep your balance or maximize your strength, your jaw closes to anchor important muscles in the head and neck.

If your jaw doesn’t come together properly, these muscles may have to work harder than they should, which can lead to tension headaches. Other times, your jaw may suffer repeated concussive force because it doesn’t fit together securely. These repeated impacts can trigger headaches. Finally, your jaw muscles may pressure a branch of the trigeminal nerve, which plays an important role in starting migraines.

Fortunately, TMJ treatment can help reduce or eliminate exercise headaches. To learn more, please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry.