If you regularly have migraine headaches, you might be looking for ways to ease them. Having a migraine, after all, can make it difficult to do daily activities.
A healthcare professional can prescribe medication to manage migraine attacks. However, if you’re looking for additional remedies, you can also try specific stretches.
These stretches can ease a migraine by releasing tension in your upper body. They’re also simple and gentle, making them ideal for people experiencing a migraine.
Can stretching help manage migraine episodes?
When done regularly, stretching can help calm the body and mind. Yoga is a form of exercise that combines stretching, breathing, and mindfulness. This may relieve stress and tension, which are common migraine triggers.
There’s solid research to support this effect. A 2020 study found that yoga plus medical therapy helps manage migraine better than medical therapy alone.
In a 2014 studyTrusted Source, yoga reduced the frequency and intensity of headaches in people with migraine. According to this study, yoga and stretching might help in several ways. The practice decreases stress hormones, improving how your body responds to stress. Stretching also involves slow, deep breathing. This is thought to “reset” the autonomic nervous system, which regulates your body‘s stress response.
Stretching loosens your muscles and releases physical tension. This can further help manage migraine attacks, as physical tension can worsen pain and stress.
Not all types of yoga and stretching are appropriate for migraine management. According to the American Migraine Foundation, gentle moves are ideal. Vigorous sequences with intense, complex postures might make your symptoms worse.
Luckily, there are many gentle moves to choose from. Read on for the best stretches for migraine pain.
Side neck bend
Side neck bend is a gentle stretch that releases tension in the neck and upper back. You can do it while sitting or standing, making it a versatile move.
To do the stretch:
- Start in a seated or standing position. Keep your spine neutral, relax shoulders, and rest arms alongside body.
- Lower right ear toward right shoulder. Extend left hand toward floor, then flex fingers upward. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Seated forward fold
The act of resting your head on something can feel very soothing. It’s a major element of the seated forward fold, also called the two-legged forward bend. The pose also loosens the muscles in your legs.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit on the floor and straighten your legs in front of you. Place a folded towel or blanket under your buttocks if you need support.
- Point toes upward, as if the soles of your feet are against a wall. Lengthen spine.
- Bend forward from hips, bringing torso to thighs. Gently bend knees if it feels more comfortable.
- Lie forehead on legs and place hands on feet. Hold for 30 seconds.
The child’s pose is a classic yoga move. The stretch is restorative, especially if you let your arms relax alongside your body. It also stretches the upper back while calming the mind.
To do it:
- Kneel on floor. Spread knees outward to the width of the mat. Keep big toes touching and rest buttocks on heels.
- Lengthen spine and place hands on thighs.
- Lower torso between thighs, reaching hands toward the top of your mat. Place forehead on mat and relax your neck, shoulders, and arms. Hold for 30 seconds. Another option is to rest arms alongside body, with hands under buttocks and palms facing upward.
Thread the needle
If your shoulders feel tense, try this pose to stretch your upper back. It also involves a gentle low back twist, further releasing tension.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start on all fours. Place hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. Keep spine neutral and rest the tops of your feet on the mat.
- Extend right arm under left arm, reaching to your left. Lower right ear and shoulder to mat, keeping knees and feet in place. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Return to all fours. Repeat on other side.
Downward-facing dog is another classic stretch. It’s thought to ease migraine pain by promoting blood circulation to the head and releasing tension throughout the entire body.
To do the move:
- Start on all fours. Place hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. Keep spine neutral.
- Press hands into mat and tuck toes under. Lift hips to straighten legs, but avoid locking knees.
- Lengthen spine, creating an upside-down “V” with your body. Reach heels toward floor. Hold for 30 seconds.
Other natural remedies for migraine
There are several natural remedies for migraine. In addition to stretching, you can also try:
- Acupressure. During acupressure, a practitioner uses their fingers and hands to place pressure on specific points on the body. A 2014 systematic reviewTrusted Source found that acupressure can help reduce chronic headaches.
- Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy using relaxing oils, like lavender essential oil, may help relieve stress. To use essential oils for migraine, add them to a diffuser while you practice the above stretches.
- Stress management. Try other stress relief methods, like massage or engaging in your favorite hobbies.
- Supplements. Many people claim that supplements, like vitamin D and magnesium, can ease migraine symptoms. Some research suggests they can help, talk with a healthcare professional before trying them.
The bottom line
Stretches like seated forward fold, child’s pose, and downward-facing dog can loosen the muscles in your upper back. This can help relieve tension and stress, which are common migraine triggers.
Migraine management is a practice, rather than a one-time treatment. Do these stretches regularly, limit your other triggers, and take your migraine medication as directed.
If you’re new to stretching, speak with a healthcare professional first. They can provide recommendations to help you stay safe while stretching.