Neurology and Neurosurgery

What you need to know about sports and migraine

What you need to know about sports and migraine


Stay in the game with effective migraine management strategies

By Dr. Hida Nierenburg, Director of Headache Medicine, Nuvance Health


Migraine can quickly sideline athletes because the neurological disorder can cause severe head pain along with other debilitating symptoms. Migraine can occur before the sports activity and stop athletes before they even start. Migraine can affect someone during or after their workout if exercise is a trigger for them.

No one wants to miss the action because of migraine, regardless if you are a recreational sports enthusiast or a professional athlete. Here are four ways to manage migraine so you can stay in the game:


1. Know when to see a headache specialist.

Mostly everyone gets headaches that improve on their own or with over-the-counter medication. See a headache specialist if you have:

  • Headaches often
  • Headaches that last for more than two days
  • Severe head pain that disrupts your life
  • Other neurological symptoms in addition to head pain


Untreated acute migraines can progress to chronic migraine. You may have chronic migraine if you have more than 15 headache days per month for three consecutive months, with migraine attacks on eight of those days.

Many types of headaches have different treatments. A headache specialist can accurately diagnose you and recommend an effective treatment.


Do you suffer from migraines? Request an appointment with a neurologist at Nuvance Health.

2. Identify and avoid triggers to prevent migraine.

Common migraine triggers include:

  • Alcoholic or caffeinated beverages
  • Bright lights, loud noises or strong smells
  • Certain types of foods
  • Dehydration
  • Exercise
  • Hormonal changes
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Weather changes

3. Recognize migraine symptoms early to start treatment sooner and reduce duration of the attack.

Common associated symptoms include:

  • An intense headache that makes you unable to participate in regular activities, such as working on the computer
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, sound or smells (at least one must be present to diagnose migraine)
  • Visual disturbances

Related article: Should you go to the emergency department for a headache or migraine?


4. Find the right kind of treatment for you.

Individuals may experience migraine differently and benefit from preventive, rescue or both kinds of treatment. Your headache specialist will help you find the right kind of treatment for you.


The good news is that there are a variety of treatments ranging from oral and intravenous medicines, injections and wearable devices. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage may be helpful for you, too.


Finally, it is also important to know which interventions will help reduce migraine symptoms, such as staying in a dark, quiet room.


Related article: Woman receives “life-changing” migraine care at Nuvance Health


Exercise-induced migraine

A study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain found that 38 percent of participants experienced a migraine from exercise. Exercise-induced migraine is most commonly associated with strenuous sports including rowing, running, swimming, tennis and weightlifting.


In addition to the general migraine prevention strategies reviewed earlier, here are four ways to prevent migraine if exercise is a trigger for you:


1. Stay well hydrated.

Keep a bottle of water with you and drink it throughout your workout or sports activity.


2. Avoid strenuous activities in extreme heat. 

Exercising or playing a sport in very hot or humid weather can cause dehydration and in turn may trigger migraine. If you have no other option but to play a sport in extreme heat, stay well hydrated and limit sun exposure by staying in the shade and wearing a hat and sunglasses, if possible.


Related article: Migraine and weather triggers: Tips to manage your symptoms


3. Warm up and cool down.

Warming up your body with light movements and stretching may reduce exercise-induced migraine. Similarly, cooling down after working out will gradually reduce your heart rate and may prevent the onset of migraine. How long you should warm up or cool down depends on the individual and type of exercise. Talk with your doctor if you get exercise-induced migraine to determine what may work best for you.


4. Have medication readily available.

Having a proper rescue migraine medication will help shorten the duration and associated symptoms that occur with an attack. The goal is for you to return to normal function with two hours.


Do you want to learn more about migraines, headaches and facial pain? Go here.


The bottom line: There are ways to manage migraine so you can stay active, maintain your exercise routine and keep your competitive edge. Getting a proper diagnosis, recognizing and avoiding triggers and finding the right treatment for you are ways you can reduce migraine days.


Dr. Hida Nierenburg is double-board certified in neurology and headache medicine. She completed her fellowship in headaches at Mount Sinai Roosevelt Headache Institute in New York City, and her residency in neurology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C. Dr. Nierenburg is at the forefront of migraine treatment and can discuss advances with electroceuticals and infusion therapy. Book an appointment online with Dr. Nierenburg.

Hida Nierenburg


Headache support group

If you get migraines or headaches, you are not alone! Millions of Americans suffer with headache disorders that affect their quality of life. Dr. Nierenburg is leading a support group for people with headache or migraine concerns. The support group meets remotely at 5:30 pm the last Monday of each month. To register, call 845-214-1922. There is no cost to register.