Unexpected Trigger: Working Out
Lately, I’ve noticed that I have developed a new-and-unusual-to-me migraine trigger: exercise. It has been a trying few months of being constantly sick, with what seemed like an unending list of pain, and I’ve just now gotten to a point where I have felt healthy enough to exercise again.
Easing my way back into exercise
Or so I thought, anyway. I had been yearning to get back into an exercise routine that in the past has helped with my hypertension, asthma, and migraines. Nothing too intense, just a bit of cardio and light weight lifting. Now it feels like I have developed a migraine specific intolerance to working out.
Ugh. But working out is supposed to be good for me!
Of all of the things that contribute to chronic pain, this one feels quite conflictual.
Pumping it up…and down
I began to realize that my head pain was being triggered by working out a few days ago, but it wasn’t until I directed all of my attention to the different exercise situations and the variations in them followed by the creeping migraine that would build to disabling by bed time, that I put the two together. At first, I attributed the migraines to to not getting enough sleep and stress (some of my known triggers) —exercise is good for me after all, right?. But they kept coming, even with active relaxing and going to bed earlier.
One day my caretaker and I did some light cardio and stretching…and again, pressure behind my eye that by bed time had become a paralyzing migraine–lights out, noise off, cold pad on. After a few days more, with rest in between, I started to realize that the pain was too frequent, too close in proximity, and too similar to simply write off exercise as the possible culprit for triggering these migraines…but I didn’t want to believe it. It really seems like working out has been acting as the catalyst to these most recent episodes and that kinda…well sucks, really. I have also been waking up with intensely tight, clenched jaw and tooth pain since re-starting my workout regiment. Oy.
Lights, smells, sweat, aches
Now in the past, I have experienced triggers while at the gym. These have included perfume smells and bright lights. Exercising inherently has with it some of the triggers that I know I am sensitive to. Gyms for instance are notoriously bright and smelly…they omit an aura of ‘awake’ and lively, and tend to have really loud music blasting too. But I come prepared. Ear plugs, sunglasses are check and check for me. I also go to the quiet, dark areas for stretching, and I am careful to take time out when at the gym to seek out quieter spots. I also try to stay as hydrated as possible, since dehydration is also a trigger for me. Even with all the precautions…I am still getting these migraines.
Something has changed
It hasn’t always been like this, though. I have struggled to work out in the past, but I also successfully introduced more activity into my life after years of not being able to. I suffer from exercise-induced anaphylaxis and take a non-drowsy antihistamine before working out every session to prevent breaking out in hives, and I also know that being too hot and sweaty has triggered migraine for me—but for months before I fell constantly ill, I was working out with ease, and it seemed to actually be helping to decrease my frequency of migraine. Now it seems I am all out of whack, and the pain is near daily. It is really frustrating because I like how it feels to exercise, especially since it is something I thought I could never do with all of my conditions.
Tending to the pain…but still in the game
Running, weightlifting, even yoga and stretching all lately trigger throbbing pain and further light and touch sensitivity for me..and honestly, it’s a huge bummer! I definitely do not want to stop working out…but I also know that this increase in migraine frequency and intensity has to be addressed, particularly as it affects other aspects of my day to day. I am brainstorming ways to alleviate some of the pain in a way that will allow me to keep moving, because there are immense benefits for me to workout outside of the migraine pain, my blood pressure and asthma for two. I want to keep working out, but I also don’t want to feel throbbing pain every single time I do. For now, I am going to bring both cold and hot pads to the gym with me, keep using my earbuds and sunglasses, make sure to keep cool and hydrated, and try relaxing directly after to see if any of that helps. It could also be that I am just getting back into it after being sick for so long and the changes of routine could be linked to the increase in frequency of migraine. It is so hard to tell with migraine. Hopefully, after settling in through, things will get better.
Is exercise a trigger for you? How do you balance trying to workout or maintain your fitness level with migraine? Let’s discuss in the comments!