I looked at my watch. Shit. I was running ten minutes late. I abhor being late, I’m one of those people who would rather be half an hour early for an appointment than even five minutes late. I slammed the front door behind me and prayed that I wouldn’t have to wait too long for a bus.
I made my way onto the main road, power walking toward the bus stop which was now just three blocks ahead, I turned round to look down the road to see if a bus was approaching. There is always that moment of horror when you either see a bus just leaving the bus stop, or see one approaching but know you’ll never make it to the bus stop in time. I couldn’t see a bus so kept on power walking. I swiveled round again, a risky move considering vertigo used to be a big problem for me and I have a ‘dodgy’ neck (very technical medical term) and lo and behold a bus was coming round the corner. And then something very strange happened. Before I even knew what was happening my legs were doing something odd. I had broken into a sprint! I was running! To put this into context, I have not officially been jogging, or done any real aerobic exercise since 2004. Yet, some reflex made me run for my life to catch that bus, my neck brace was attached to my handbag (I was meant to be wearing it but because I was late I’d forgotten to put it on.) So here I was running along the street like a crazy lady, my arms waving frantically at the driver whilst shouting “Wait for me! Wait for me!” And the driver did wait for me. I fell into the bus and was so pleased with myself that I did a little ‘Rocky’ victory move, hands above head style, and said out loud to my fellow passengers, “I made it! Look! I made it!” No one clapped. Obviously, they didn’t realize quite how momentous this was. I pushed aside a nearby Granny, knowing I wouldn’t make it to the next available seat, and as the bus set off wondered if it was too late to qualify for the Paralympics.
And then, whilst sweat seeped out of pores I didn’t even know existed, panic suddenly set in as I think I experience my first ever asthma attack. I quickly put on my neck brace and realized the chances of me being able to stand up and get off the bus were slim. Now you must be wondering what appointment could possibly be so important that I would put nearly a whole year of physiotherapy treatment, Doctors appointments, in-patient injections on torn discs, nerve damage, degenerative and hyper mobile neck joints, in jeopardy? Well, I was not late for a job interview, nor a work meeting. I was not late for a date, or even a social engagement of any kind. I was late… for a manicure.
But I tell you these manicure people can be mean!! You don’t understand here in the UK they can get nasty. I was once late for a manicure on my Birthday and they made me cry. Oh how I miss $11 manicures in NYC where you essentially hold hands with a stranger and they don’t try to make small talk, possibly because they can’t speak English. Anyway, point is, I did not want to be late – and some reflex had taken over to ensure I wasn’t. And maybe I haven’t been getting out enough due to chronic migraines so this appointment seemed a little more significant that it really was (Mum made me add this sentence.)
Anyway, sitting having my beautiful Shellac manicure (it really does work by the way, the polish does stay on for nearly 2-3 weeks) my 50-yard dash was quickly making itself known. My left shoulder and hand had gone numb, my shoulder and neck muscles had already turned to rock and I could feel a mini spasm creep up the back of my neck. In a way it felt as if my neck was crystallizing, if that makes any sense at all. And, before long a migraine had set in. This happens every time I do any type of aerobic exercise. And no, don’t be silly, of course it didn’t occur to me to stop the manicure and go home. I had made it this far after all.
“I’m completely and utterly shocked.”
“At my total stupidity to put my treatment in jeopardy and essentially give myself a migraine?”
“No, I’m used to you doing that Darling. I’m shocked that you could actually physically run. It’s been so long since you’ve done any real exercise, I didn’t know you could put one foot in front of the other and move. I’m almost impressed. By the way your nails did look lovely”.
So, when people helpfully suggest I do some vigorous exercise to get rid of my migraines I will now refer them to the ‘manicure migraine’ incident. But I am not typical of all migraineurs, I also have a type of cervocigenic headache (headache stemming from neck injury) and I can’t swim or do yoga at the moment as even these gentle forms of exercises trigger attacks for me. I look incredibly cool and walk up and down the pool instead, it’s actually quite hard work. Conversely, sitting in one position for too long and getting stiff also triggers migraines for me, it’s a tricky balancing act. But I do fully intend to get back to other forms of exercising one day but at the moment I can’t. Nearly a year ago, just as I was coming out of a three-day migraine, my neck went into a mega spasm after I sneezed which triggered a descent back into chronic migraine land and regular spasms. I had to give up my part time job and getting healthy again is my current job. And yes, I still ran for the bus. (But my neck has been doing this for years and its been getting progressively worse… oh leave me alone!)
So, on a serious note, the debates about exercise and migraine abound and clearly more research needs to be done. But I refer you all to the fabulous migraine blog, That M word, for an example of where building up to regular exercise seems to have worked wonders as a migraine preventative. For various reasons, migrainuer Emily Guzan decided to come off the daily preventative Topamax (which I’m currently on) and build up to a very careful and gradual exercise routine and the results are, so far, astounding. This last weekend she ran a 5K and has had only one migraine since March 18th! But I’m sure she’d be the first to say that regular exercise is only one part of Emily’s migraine preventative life-style. Check out her blog to see what other techniques she employs.
|Emily running in the 5 K! Photo via That M Word|
Interestingly (well I thought so) I recently read about a 2011 study from a Swedish University in which 91 patients where divided into three groups. One was put on Topamax, one given relaxation exercises, and the other given an exercise programme to do three times a week. After 3 months ALL sets reported a 95% drop in migraine frequency, thus suggesting that regular exercise might be an equally effective preventative compared to drugs such as Topamax and relaxation therapy. (Links to full study below.)
So, YOU know your migraine best and it’s a question of carefully and methodically working out a prevention, lifestyle and treatment programme as a team with your Doctor. A good start can be to keep a detailed Migraine Diary (I link to some good ones here.) But for some exercise is a trigger and for some it works as a fabulous preventative, everyone is different as is every migraine. And there are many different theories and reasons as to why exercise can be a trigger, so do some research and talk to your Doctor. Medical ‘advice’ is generally that a gentle, regular exercise programme usually works as an effective preventative. Exercising too rigorously, especially when you’re not use to it, can lead to an ‘exertion’ headache or migraine and many other factors, such as heat and blood sugar, play a part. The Migraine Trust have a great fact sheet on this topic. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to walking up and down the pool and doing the floor strengthening exercises my Physiotherapist prescribes. And Mum has also offered to paint my nails.
Is exercise a trigger or a preventative for you? Has yoga helped or hindered?
Further reading and resources on migraine and exercise: