The effects of exercise and exercise-related changes in blood nitric oxide level on migraine headache

Clin Rehabil. 2003 Sep;17(6):624-30. doi: 10.1191/0269215503cr657oa.


Objective: To observe the effects of moderate aerobic exercise on migraine headache, to assess exercise-related changes in blood nitric oxide (NO) levels, and to examine the impact of such changes on migraine attacks.

Design: Controlled clinical trial.

Setting: School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation.

Subjects: Forty women with general migraine attending the Neurology Department of the Faculty of Medicine Faculty of Dokuz Eylül University.

Intervention: Patients were assigned alternately into two groups: exercise group undertaking 1 hour aerobic exercise three times weekly, and a control group.

Main outcome measures: Patients were assessed before and after treatment using three clinical scales--visual analogue scale for headache, Pain Disability Index and Quality of Life Scale--and chemiluminescence analysis for plasma nitric oxide.

Results: After the eight-week therapy period, patient complaints concerning the intensity, frequency and duration of pain had decreased significantly in both groups; however, visual analogue scale scoring showed better pain relief in the exercised group than in the controls (from 8.8 +/- 1.7 to 4.0 +/- 1.4 and from 8.5 +/- 0.8 to 7.0 +/- 0.9 respectively). Quality of life measures also revealed better migraine relief in the exercised women than in those who received medical treatment only. Blood NO rose significantly from pre- to post-therapy in the exercised group, but the change was not significant in the control group.

Conclusion: The study showed that regular long-term aerobic exercise reduced migraine pain severity, frequency and duration possibly due to increased nitric oxide production.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / blood
  • Migraine Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Nitric Oxide / blood*
  • Pain / classification
  • Pain Measurement
  • Quality of Life*


  • Nitric Oxide