Resisting the Urge to Curl Up

Resisting the Urge to Curl Up

Getting and keeping the body moving is only growing in importance for me these days. As I continue aging and navigating the challenges of chronic daily migraines, I notice my body trending toward curling up, slowing down, and away from physical activity. And yet I have learned after years of doing just that (sitting nearly frozen in fear with the knowledge that movement would exacerbate pain), there is such goodness to be gained in pushing against that inclination; goodness in embracing health and striving for wellness.

Acknowledging the wear and tear of chronic pain

Exercising is one of the few proactive steps I can take in response to having daily pain. So much about chronic migraine involves feeling out of control of your body. It is hard not to feel victimized or as if you are in some strange battle day after day. The wear and tear on the body from long-term intense pain is comprehensive (picture fetal position, knotted and atrophied musculature, fatigue, shaky weakness, with everything down to hair follicles aching) and consequently, the importance of getting your body moving is all the more tremendous. Alternately, if we don’t get moving, the pain becomes cyclical – feeding off of those tight and sore muscles, triggering another migraine.

One thing is clear, regardless of whether or not pain is at play, we all have to find our own unique movement regimen that works for us. And what works best for me- won’t necessarily work for you. That said- perhaps there will be parts of my journey that might be helpful to others.

Finding low-impact cardio options

Most people I’ve talked with who are navigating life with frequent or chronic migraine have found that exercises which raise their heart rate significantly tend to raise their pain accordingly. The key, therefore, for me at least, has been to find ways to exercise that don’t result in my heart pounding.

My primary mode of spiritual and physical exercise is walking. Long-distance walking. Getting outside and inhaling fresh air, seeing the world, does so much to provide perspective. When one has to spend a lot of time inside, isolated, in a controlled environment due to pain, it’s refreshing and healthy to remember that there is a big beautiful bustling world out there. I try to walk 4 or so miles a few times a week when my pain allows though there are many weeks that I may only get out once.  But I believe every step is preventative medicine.

I recently connected my bicycle to a stationary trainer and have found that to also be an effective way to get exercise but not push so hard that I land in bed with a migraine for the rest of the day.

Over the course of the last several years, I’ve found a great offering of low-impact cardio, strength building, and yoga/pilates through online streaming and videos.  Due to the frequency and unpredictability of my pain, I can’t keep the commitment of a class schedule, so the best way for me to do these types of exercises is at home when I’m able.

I hope some of these ideas resonate with you. Are you able to exercise regularly or even at all? If so, what kind of exercise or movement regimen have you found to be most effective for you?

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

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • brandtizzle
    5 months ago

    When exercising, I found it helpful to keep my head above my heart. All that bending over for yoga makes my head throb.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    5 months ago

    I’ve found the same challenge when it comes to yoga. I love to do it, but can’t do the poses that involve blood rushing to my head. Thank you for chiming in- it’s great to learn from one another!

  • Ryszard
    5 months ago

    Tai Chi seems to be helpful for me.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    5 months ago

    Oh, how interesting! I’ve seen others do Tai Chi and talk about it in relation to Migraine. It seems gentle enough, full-body, and standing (rather than bending over, blood rushing to head) such that it would really work for Migraine. Thanks for sharing!

  • pttennessee
    5 months ago

    I get in a rut with my migraines and need to walk outside when I’m in a break from them. I know it helps

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    5 months ago

    Hi @pttennessee– I’m right there with you! Walking outside is a key part of managing my life with chronic migraine. The combination of fresh air and exercise is a great way to manage the stress and pain that comes with migraine. Thanks for sharing what works for you. Please stay in touch!

  • rlc25e
    5 months ago

    Odd that this popped up for me today. I was just on an elliptical at our local y and noticed my head starting to worsen so I checked my heart rate. Seemed anytime it approached 140 is when it got worse so I just slowed down. It is worse now than when I started but not like it was when my heart rate was 140. Guess I learned a new limit

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    5 months ago

    Good for you for paying attention to what triggers you and what your limits are. And you’re right, sometimes when we get a handle on what our limits are, they change with time. Migraines are frequently triggered by an increase in heart rate. Now that you know what your current “breaking point” is, you can be mindful of that number and stay underneath it and hopefully still get the exercise you desire. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us- it’s very helpful to learn from each other!

  • Antzus
    3 years ago

    I should perhaps speak from the other side of the situation – a bit of curling-up can be great! Essential even. For me, I would often push through the warning signs of symptoms only to get stronger migraines that might last days thereafter.

    For me it’s very important NOT to ignore the pain, to pay careful attention to my body, and if the migraine is starting, then to ease up on the activity, and probably curl up in a quiet dark room for as long as necessary.

    But I think you’re quite right about the importance of at least some physical exercise for more longer-term benefits. I’ve mostly stopped the more goal-directed sports I used to play – competing against others or pushing myself against my own barriers, and have taken a great liking to yoga, which I take at whatever pace seems suitable at the time.

  • ksimila
    3 years ago

    For me, lying down with a migraine only makes matters worse. I have to keep moving. I live in a part of the country that has long, cold, snowy winters, so I have a treadmill for days that are too cold to ski or snowshoe. I go to a yoga class three days a week, and I can often be found in the middle of the night on that stupid treadmill, trying to walk off a headache! In warmer weather, I walk five miles every day, rain or shine. In summer, I play golf and spend a lot of time with the grandchildren at the playground. My sisters like to sit on the deck all day and gab. I would like that too, but I’m only good for a short time and then I have to get up and do something physical. I know I miss a lot of good adult conversation, and I’m pretty sure people think I’m anti-social, but for me, moving is essential.

  • Juneleaves
    3 years ago

    As a formerly athletic girl, it’s taken me a long time to find a happy medium for exercise that doesn’t put me in bed for 3 days afterwards. It’s also true for me that raising my blood pressure or getting overheated are big migraine triggers as are rapid changes in position. I try and stretch in the evening on the floor when watching tv if I’m feeling up for it. Classes stress me out and most of the time I’m just not up for driving down into town.

    Walking and moderate hiking are absolute lifesavers for my body, mind and soul. There is something about breathing in fresh air that is truly restorative. (I am grateful to have found an apartment in the country on a nature preserve.) I even try and force myself to take a short slow walk, even if just a 1/4 mile down the road, when I’m feeling cruddy with a half mast headache. Out of walking I’ve have developed a really nice and unexpected friendship with a neighbor over the past few years and we walk 2 or 3 times a week. It helps immensely with isolation. Getting the body moving also shakes up any self pity or depression that’s creeping in.

    Lastly I ride horses on occasion and heartily recommend finding a farm that does equine therapy. I don’t know how to describe the presence of mind that occurs when sitting on a horse, but there is definitely a reason that equine therapy has become popular. It’s like I forget everything about my life and how at 44 I live with a chronic and disabling condition. While I am definitely unable to ride with a migraine, when I have those cruddy low level headaches, I totally forget it’s there.
    My two cents!

  • Macbeck
    3 years ago

    While I frequently have some degree of pain (thank you Botox injections for keeping it at a liveable level) my biggest problem is Vestibular Migraine – aka disequilibrium and vertigo. Thus exercise is not something I have been able to do as both the exertion and impact while walking can trigger these migraines. I was recently able to purchase a “glider-walker” so there is no impact, and if the migraine hits while exercising my sofa is only a few steps away. I’m up to at least a mile most days.

    This is what works for me.

  • Edomal
    3 years ago

    I too suffer from Vestibular Migraine. I have recently found sitting and/or chair yoga. By searching either of those terms I have been able to find some yoga poses that keep me upright and either sitting or using a chair for support. I also suffer with insomnia due to stress, which causes more migraines. I have found that some of the yoga poses are relaxing and if practiced before bed I tend to get more sleep.
    This has helped me.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Edomal – We are so happy to hear that practicing chair yoga has brought you some relief AND has helped you get more a more restful night’s sleep! Thanks for sharing your experience. Best regards, Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • Vicki H
    3 years ago

    I’ve recently started doing yoga – with streaming videos or favorites on YouTube. I’m discovering the wonderful feeling of increased flexibility is helping me to sleep better at night and enjoy my days more. I’m even able to do some stretching with a migraine – something id previously never considered doing. Now I’m considering adding Tai Chi to my routine – I’m pretty excited about it!

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    Walking is a wonderfully refreshing experience. Fresh air, new view. The mailbox is 1/4 mile down the hill. To go around the block is about 1.5 miles. Sometimes I really don’t want to go but always feel as if I’ve accomplished something after doing so. Country living is great. There is a guy on youtube that has quite a variety of 1/2 hr programs. Different days I do different ones to work out different areas. Have to be really careful about my spine so can’t do the same workout every day. Any exercise I do is mood elevating and even better outdoors.

  • Poll