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Gentle post-migraine recovery

Gentle post-migraine recovery

After a migraine, do you ever have that “beat up” feeling as if you’ve been hit by a truck? That’s your body telling you to take it easy. Do you give yourself time to recover from a migraine attack or do you rush right back into life as soon as the pain subsides?

A lot can happen in the 2-24 hours after the headache phase is over. When a migraine attack occurs, all of our senses are disrupted. Brain chemistry and electrical activity take wild spikes and freefalls. Our bodies need time to adjust to the rapid changes. Our reflexes are still slowed, so we can be clumsy. We can continue to have light and sound sensitivity, ringing of the ears, fatigue, mood swings, and even brain fog.

As a child, I remember watching my dad come out of postdrome. After hours of isolation, he would emerge from the bedroom – wrinkled white t-shirt, bare feet, hair in a mess, eyes still squinting from photophobia. He wouldn’t speak a word until after he’d had something to eat and drink. That gave him time to regain a sense of normalcy. Even after eating, he would remain quiet and still for hours. Except for Sunday afternoon football, that was the only time I ever saw my dad sit and watch TV longer than to check the weather or evening news.

When the demands of life are strong, it can be tempting to jump back into our responsibilities as soon as the pain starts to ease up. We often forget that a migraine attack isn’t really over until we have regained our normal energy and tolerance to stimuli. That slowness we feel is simply the migraine inching its way out of our brains. We’ve all pushed ourselves to return to “normal” too soon after an attack. The problem is that we can still make silly mistakes, have difficulty communicating, and have trouble staying awake. It’s really better for everyone (and safer for us) if we wait just a little longer until we are fully recovered.

As a general rule, I avoid driving, intense physical activity, and any work requiring mental focus until the postdrome has ended. Fortunately, my body gives me a very clear signal. I know the attack is really over when my ears stop ringing. Even if I feel fine, I will still wait until that last symptom is gone. Until then, I find soothing activities to occupy my time, such as a warm bubble bath, coloring, or snuggling with my granddaughter.

Can you tell when your postdrome is over? What kind of limits do you observe as part of your recovery process? Are there self-care habits you’ve found helpful?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • CaliAriesGirl
    1 year ago

    How can I afford to wait for all my symptoms of migraine to be gone? Even if I am lucky to take the day off work when my migraine hits ( and that doesn’t happen often) I have to be at work the very next day. Clean and smiling and ready to work. Definitely ready to drive.
    And I really, really look like a zombie. Not willing to speak, but I just have to do all my responsibilities. I can’t lose my job.
    I really wish I could wait until I am back to normal, but I can’t.

  • Tamara
    3 years ago

    Sigh I remember learning this and did get some initial helping – I definitely pushed too early after a migraine.

    Now ….. Every migraine pulls me down farther and farther and I’m not able to get back to the energy level I was at before, before another one hits. July literally tried to kill me and August is being just as bad. even breathing sometimes feels like it takes too much effort ….

    I literally slept for three solid days (longest I was awake at a time was 1 hour) over the weekend. Tried to get through today with no pain meds and made it until now (6pm) but when I start uncontrollable crying and thinking about death I had to call it quits and just take the meds. Even though they don’t work much or for long ….

    I just can’t seem to recover at all, no matter how much meditation/sleep etc I do, I just feel weaker. Migraines suck balls.

  • Brooke H moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Tamara, I’m so sorry that you are struggling right now. You are not alone and we’re glad that you reached out for support. It sounds as though in spite of your best efforts, you are experiencing little relief which can understandably lead to feelings of hopelessness. It takes courage to share your emotional experience during this difficult time. We encourage you to get all the support you deserve both online and in-person. This may involve reaching out to your provider, a counselor and/or local support group. In addition to what Joanna offered – If you are in need of a counselor, this is a great resource: Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Local support search If you continue to have thoughts about dying and feel like giving up, we encourage you to contact The National Suicide Prevention Hotline which has both phone and online support: 1-800-273-8255 and/or with live chat or present to your local emergency room. Please know that we appreciate your involvement in our community. We are thinking of you! Warmly, Brooke ( team)

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi there Tamara,

    I am so sorry you are enduring this. Please know that you are NOT alone in these feelings don’t give up hope for better days ahead!!! I wanted to share an article by one of our contributors, Kerrie who expresses these same sentiments which you shared –

    Are you experiencing any relief since taking your medication? Is there a possibility that you may be experiencing MOH (medication overuse headache)? Here is some information on this: You mention taking pain medication, but unfortunately pain meds only mask the pain for a few hours and do not actually stop the migraine. Have you spoken to your doctor about an alternative and/or preventative treatments? Here is an overview of treatment options:

    I truly hope you are feeling better since posting this!! Check back in when you get a chance & let us know how things are going!

    Wishing you a gentle night.
    Joanna ( Team)

  • Lori
    3 years ago

    I, too, have overlapping migraine attacks, and it’s difficult to tell where the prodrome of one ends and another begins sometimes. But when I can tell that I’m clearly in the prodrome phase, music is very helpful for me. It has to be instrumental, no lyrics to scramble my already foggy brain. Lyrics provide too much stimulus to an already over-stimulated brain.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Lori! It’s great that you understand this fine difference and have been able to use it to help. It brings to mind an interesting question about possible frequency and tone differences between the human voice and instruments. Thanks so much for sharing! -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • katdan1026
    3 years ago

    My migraines come in clusters so there is very little “recovery” between them. Recently I’ve been having them every day or every other day so there is no down time. But when I do get a few days break, I tend to move slower, only do what absolutely has to be done, and avoid over exerting myself. I also find it wise to avoid heat, as in hot summer temps. It usually takes me a few days to completely recover.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi katdan1026. You’re not alone there! This has been a rough month, especially with this heat dome that has been bringing very high temps. We have a wonderful article Community ideas: withstanding the heat with migraine where members discuss their tips and tricks for dealing with heat, you may find some of the ideas useful.

    Thanks for being part of the community and for sharing your thoughts with us! -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • GrassRootsMomma
    3 years ago

    My signal that the migraine attack is over is also the ending of tinnitus. Aphasia is one step before that. Once I can finally communicate without stumbling over words or forgetting my train of thought, I know I’m close. Then when the cessation of constant noise in my ears is over, I know that I’m finally free and clear… at least for a few hours. If I get lucky, it might be for almost 24 hours!

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