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Can Pilates Help In Migraine?

Pilates is a type of low-impact exercise that focuses on mindful movement. Pilates is typically suitable for all abilities and ages. Pilates aims to coordinate the mind, body, and spirit, and this form of exercise can help improve joint mobility, posture, balance, muscle tone, flexibility, and overall strength. Migraine is a chronic neurological disorder, and headaches are one of the biggest symptoms. People with migraine are usually recommended to exercise regularly. Exercise has been found to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. While more research needs to be done to understand if Pilates can have an impact on migraine, but it is believed that Pilates can benefit people experiencing the symptoms of migraine. Read on to find out more about can Pilates help with migraine.

What is Migraine?

When you hear the word migraine, the first thought that pops into your mind is of an excruciating headache. Migraine is a chronic neurological disorder that causes a wide range of symptoms, including headaches. For many people, this condition can be debilitating and interfere with their everyday functioning. Migraine episodes can also cause the following symptoms:(1,2,3,4)

Migraine attacks usually last for around four hours. If not treated, or if they don’t respond to treatment, they can even last for as long as 72 hours to a week. Some individuals experience migraine with aura, in which the pain may overlap an aura or might not even occur. (5)

If you are living with migraine, you might have experienced an episode right after exercising, or it is possible that you found some relief from your symptoms after you started exercising. According to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF), exercise is usually recommended for all people with migraine as it has been shown to reduce the frequency of these attacks and also reduce stress and poor sleep, both of which are known triggers of migraine attacks.(6)

Pilates is one form of exercise that may help you reduce the frequency of your migraine attacks, alleviate your symptoms, and also help you stay fit overall while living with migraine.

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a type of low-impact exercise that focuses on mindful movement that is suitable for all ages and abilities. The foundation of Pilates is to coordinate the mind, spirit, and body, with an emphasis on spinal alignment, breath, and core strength. (7,8,9,10)

Joseph Pilates developed this exercise technique in the 1920s to provide rehabilitation to soldiers returning from war.

It is possible to practice Pilates either individually or in a group, and many exercises require nothing other than having a floor mat. However, some of the exercises do need you to have some specialized equipment. If you can find a good Pilates instructor, they will guide you through the exercises that are right for your skill level and also allow you to develop your skills at your own pace.

Regular practice of Pilates can help enhance the following: (11,12)

  • Joint mobility
  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Muscle tone
  • Flexibility
  • Overall strength

Pilates may also help alleviate stress and tension and also reduce disability and pain. However, as is the case when you try anything new, it is always better to consult with your doctor first, especially if you have a medical condition.

Can Pilates Help in Migraine?

Cardiovascular exercises that increase the heart rate, such as swimming, cycling, and jogging, are recommended to people who have migraine to help reduce their symptoms. Pilates, on the other hand, does not always increase your heart rate in the same way that cardio exercises do, as it is more focused on increasing your flexibility and improving strength. (13,14,15,16)

Nevertheless, Pilates is also believed to benefit many people with migraine. Still, more research is needed to clearly understand the effects of Pilates on migraine. Let us take a look at how Pilates can help with migraine.

Relief in Neck and Back Pain

Pilates has been found to help alleviate chronic neck and back pain. Though migraine episodes are neurological in nature, they can also be caused by fluctuations in hormone levels. Many people with migraine report that chronic neck and back pain actually increases their migraine symptoms.

A review of studies done in 2019 found an association between headache disorders and lower back pain. (17) During the review, the researcher analyzed 14 studies that looked at the various types of headaches, including tension and migraine headaches. Lower back pain was found to be consistently more common in people who had headache disorders as compared to those participants who did not have any type of headache disorder.

However, before trying Pilates for back pain or any new type of exercise, always check in with your doctor. It is essential that you are aware of the causes and limitations of your individual condition, such as migraine.

Pilates may help provide relief from overall pain also, as regular exercise promotes the release of endorphins in the body, which act as natural painkillers. (18,19,20)

Decrease in Blood Pressure

High blood pressure during exercising is known to trigger the symptoms of migraine. For those people who experience migraine after exercising, Pilates can be a good option as this prevents exercise-induced hypertension as the movements are controlled and slow, therefore unlikely to cause any sharp or sudden increase in blood pressure.

Pilates can also help lower blood pressure. A small study done in 2020 carried out on middle-aged participants with hypertension found that after only one session of Pilates, the participants experienced a reduction of 5 to 8 mm Hg in blood pressure within 60 minutes after completing the exercise routine.(21)

Improvement in Posture

Poor posture may also cause an increase in the severity and frequency of migraine. According to the American Migraine Foundation, practicing back and core strengthening exercises core can help improve your posture, which can help relieve the symptoms of migraine. Pilates is a good exercise that can help you achieve a better posture. (22)

Can Pilates Be a Trigger For Your Migraine?

People with migraine know that certain types of exercises or physical movements sometimes trigger a migraine episode. To lower the risk of experiencing any migraine symptoms from exercising, including from Pilates, you should avoid doing any exercise maneuvers that involve the following:

  • Sudden or forced exertion
  • Bending over
  • Bowing over
  • Turning your head or body too quickly

 However, before you start any exercise session, experts recommend the following:

  • Remain well hydrated.
  • Start exercising before warming up properly, and then slowly ease into the movements.
  • Eat a protein-rich snack before starting, such as nuts or a protein bar.


Many medical experts and even the American Migraine Foundation recommends that people with migraine should practice a combination of strength and cardiovascular exercises as part of their migraine care plan. If your goal is to practice a form of exercise that helps improve both your flexibility and overall strength, Pilates could be the best option for you, especially if you suffer from exercise-triggered migraine. Pilates is a low-impact exercise that is suitable for all ages and ability levels. The movements are slow and controlled, and the best part is that the measured movements are accompanied by breathing techniques that are unlikely to raise your blood pressure. This also helps prevent exercise-induced migraine.

While more research is still needed to understand how Pilates can help improve migraine specifically, but there is no doubt that there are many benefits of Pilates, and you can experience some relief from your migraine symptoms by following a well-rounded exercise routine. However, if you have any other underlying medical condition, make sure to consult your doctor before beginning a new type of exercise.


  1. Kermanshahi, S., Sadrizadeh, R. and Nafisi, S., 2010. The effect of auto acupressure on reliefing headache in Migraine. Journal of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences, 13(4).
  2. Allais, G., Rolando, S., Castagnoli Gabellari, I., Burzio, C., Airola, G., Borgogno, P., Schiapparelli, P., Allais, R. and Benedetto, C., 2012. Acupressure in the control of migraine-associated nausea. Neurological Sciences, 33(1), pp.207-210.
  3. Vagharseyyedin, S.A., Salmabadi, M., BahramiTaghanaki, H. and Riyasi, H., 2019. The impact of self-administered acupressure on sleep quality and fatigue among patients with migraine: A randomized controlled trial. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 35, pp.374-380.
  4. Yu, X. and Salmoni, A., 2018. Comparison of the prophylactic effect between acupuncture and Acupressure on menstrual migraine: results of a pilot study. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 11(5), pp.303-314.
  5. Rasmussen, B.K. and Olesen, J., 1992. Migraine with aura and migraine without aura: an epidemiological study. Cephalalgia, 12(4), pp.221-228.
  6. American Migraine Foundation. 2022. Exercise and Migraine | American Migraine Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/exercise-migraine/> [Accessed 9 June 2022].
  7. Wells, C., Kolt, G.S. and Bialocerkowski, A., 2012. Defining Pilates exercise: a systematic review. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(4), pp.253-262.
  8. Muscolino, J.E. and Cipriani, S., 2004. Pilates and the “powerhouse”—I. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 8(1), pp.15-24.
  9. Latey, P., 2001. The Pilates method: history and philosophy. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 5(4), pp.275-282.
  10. Bernardo, L.M., 2007. The effectiveness of Pilates training in healthy adults: An appraisal of the research literature. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 11(2), pp.106-110.
  11. Lange, C., Unnithan, V.B., Larkam, E. and Latta, P.M., 2000. Maximizing the benefits of Pilates-inspired exercise for learning functional motor skills. Journal of bodywork and Movement Therapies, 4(2), pp.99-108.
  12. Shedden, M. and Kravitz, L., 2006. Pilates exercise a research-based review. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 10(3-4), pp.111-116.
  13. Bretland, R.J. and Thorsteinsson, E.B., 2015. Reducing workplace burnout: The relative benefits of cardiovascular and resistance exercise. PeerJ, 3, p.e891.
  14. Roig, M., Nordbrandt, S., Geertsen, S.S. and Nielsen, J.B., 2013. The effects of cardiovascular exercise on human memory: a review with meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 37(8), pp.1645-1666.
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  21. Rocha, J., Cunha, F.A., Cordeiro, R., Monteiro, W., Pescatello, L.S. and Farinatti, P., 2020. Acute effect of a single session of pilates on blood pressure and cardiac autonomic control in middle-aged adults with hypertension. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 34(1), pp.114-123.
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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 20, 2022

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