Migraine and Pilates: Core Strength for Symptom Reduction

Migraine and Pilates: Core Strength for Symptom Reduction


As someone who has personally experienced the debilitating effects of migraine attacks, finding effective ways to manage the symptoms is crucial. Migraine attacks can greatly disrupt daily life and hinder productivity, making it essential to explore holistic approaches for relief.

How Pilates can help migraine attacks

Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on strengthening the core muscles, which include the abdominals, back, and pelvis. By improving core strength, Pilates can alleviate migraine symptoms and provide relief.

Research has shown that regular Pilates practice can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks. A study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies found that migraine sufferers who participated in a Pilates program experienced a significant decrease in the number of headache days per month.

By strengthening the core muscles, Pilates also helps improve overall body alignment and posture. This can alleviate muscle imbalances and tension that may trigger migraine attacks.

Understanding the connection between core strength and migraine attacks

The core muscles play a significant role in maintaining proper posture and stability. Poor posture, such as slouching or hunching over, can contribute to tension in the head and neck, leading to migraine attacks. By improving core strength, Pilates helps correct posture, reducing strain on the head and neck.

For example, weak core muscles can cause the shoulders to round forward, resulting in an imbalance that puts strain on the neck and upper back. Through targeted Pilates exercises, such as shoulder rolls and chest openers, the core muscles can be strengthened, helping to restore proper alignment and reduce the risk of migraine attacks.

Specific Pilates exercises for migraine relief

When incorporating Pilates into your migraine management routine, there are specific exercises that target the core muscles and help reduce symptoms:

Strengthening exercises for the core muscles

  • Abdominal curls: This exercise targets the abdominal muscles, helping to strengthen the core and improve posture. Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Gradually lift your head and shoulders off the mat while engaging your core. Slowly lower back down and repeat.
  • Plank variations: Planks engage the entire core, including the abdominals, back, and pelvis, providing overall strength and stability. Start in a push-up position, with your palms flat on the floor and your body in a straight line from head to toe. Hold this position for as long as comfortable, gradually increasing the duration over time.
  • Pilates bridge: The bridge exercise activates the glutes and lower back muscles, supporting the core and improving posture. Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Slowly lift your hips off the mat, pressing into your heels and engaging your glutes. Hold for a few seconds, then lower back down and repeat.

Stretching exercises for the neck and shoulders

  • Neck retraction: This exercise helps alleviate tension in the neck and upper back, reducing migraine triggers. Start by sitting or standing tall with your shoulders relaxed. Gently draw your chin backward, creating a double chin. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat.
  • Shoulder rolls: Shoulder rolls help release tension in the shoulders and upper back, promoting relaxation. Sit or stand tall with your arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly roll your shoulders forward and then backward in a circular motion. Repeat several times.
  • Chest opener: This stretch opens up the chest and shoulders, improving posture and reducing strain on the neck. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Interlace your fingers behind your back, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and lift your arms up as far as comfortable. Hold for a few seconds, then release and repeat.

Breathing exercises for relaxation and stress reduction

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Deep breathing exercises can help relax the body and reduce stress, potentially preventing migraine attacks. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Breathe in deeply through your nose, feeling your abdomen rise. Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting your abdomen fall. Repeat for several minutes.
  • Alternate nostril breathing: This breathing technique promotes balance and reduces tension, offering relief from migraine symptoms. Sit in a comfortable position and place your right thumb over your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your left nostril. Close your left nostril with your ring finger, then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through the right nostril, close it with your thumb, and exhale through the left nostril. Repeat for several rounds.

Incorporating Pilates into a migraine management routine

Before starting any exercise program, including Pilates, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider. They can provide guidance and ensure that Pilates is a safe and suitable option for you, especially if you have any existing medical conditions or injuries.

When incorporating Pilates into your migraine management routine:

Discussing with a healthcare provider

  • Importance of consulting with a healthcare professional to ensure Pilates is appropriate for you
  • Getting clearance for exercise, especially if you have any existing medical conditions or injuries

Developing a customized Pilates routine

  • Working with a Pilates instructor who understands your specific needs and limitations
  • Modifying exercises based on individual capabilities to prevent strain
  • Setting realistic goals and expectations for your progress

Consistency and commitment to the routine

  • Establishing a regular practice schedule to reap the benefits of Pilates
  • Tracking progress and making adjustments as necessary to optimize results

Other lifestyle changes to complement Pilates for migraine management

While Pilates can be an effective tool in managing migraine attacks, it is important to incorporate other lifestyle changes to maximize relief:

Maintaining a healthy diet

  • Identifying trigger foods and avoiding them
  • Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods that can help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, such as leafy greens, fatty fish, and berries

Practicing good sleep hygiene

  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule to maintain consistent rest patterns
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine to promote quality sleep, such as avoiding screens before bed and creating a comfortable sleep environment

Managing stress

  • Incorporating stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, or mindfulness exercises
  • Seeking support from loved ones or joining support groups to manage emotional well-being

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Can Pilates completely cure migraine attacks?

Pilates can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks, but it may not completely cure them. It is important to use Pilates in conjunction with other migraine management techniques.

2. What is the recommended frequency for practicing Pilates to see results?

Consistency is key. Aim to practice Pilates at least 2-3 times per week to experience the benefits. However, always listen to your body and adjust the frequency based on your individual needs and limitations.

3. Can I do Pilates during a migraine attack?

It is generally recommended to avoid intense physical activity, including Pilates, during a migraine attack. Allow your body to rest and recover before resuming your Pilates routine.

4. Are there any Pilates exercises that should be avoided if I have specific headache triggers?

If you have specific headache triggers, such as forward head posture or neck strain, it is best to consult with a Pilates instructor who can modify exercises to avoid exacerbating those triggers.

5. Can Pilates be helpful for tension headaches?

Yes, Pilates can be beneficial for tension headaches. By improving core strength and posture, Pilates helps reduce muscle tension in the head, neck, and shoulders, which are common areas of tension associated with tension headaches.

6. Is it necessary to have prior experience with Pilates to start practicing?

No, prior experience is not necessary. Pilates can be adapted for different fitness levels, and beginner-friendly classes are available. It is important to start at a comfortable level and gradually increase the intensity and difficulty as you build strength.

7. Can Pilates alone replace medication for migraine management?

Pilates is not meant to replace medication. It can be used as a complementary approach to migraine management, along with other treatments prescribed by your healthcare provider.

8. How long does it take to notice improvements in migraine symptoms with Pilates?

The time it takes to notice improvements can vary for each individual. Some people may experience relief after a few weeks of consistent practice, while others may take longer. Patience and consistency are key.

9. Can I practice Pilates at home without a Pilates instructor?

While it is possible to practice Pilates at home, especially with online videos or apps, working with a Pilates instructor is recommended, especially if you are new to Pilates or have specific concerns or limitations.

10. Are there any precautions I should take while performing Pilates exercises for migraine relief?

When performing Pilates exercises for migraine relief, it is important to listen to your body and not push through pain or discomfort. Start with modifications and progress gradually to more challenging exercises. If you experience any unusual symptoms or worsening of migraine attacks, consult with a healthcare professional.


Pilates offers a holistic approach to reducing migraine symptoms by strengthening the core muscles and improving posture. By incorporating specific Pilates exercises, along with other lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet and managing stress, individuals can achieve greater relief from their migraine symptoms. Remember to consult with a healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program, and work with a qualified Pilates instructor to develop a customized routine that meets your specific needs and limitations.

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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