The effect of aerobic exercise on the number of migraine days, duration and pain intensity in migraine: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis

J Headache Pain. 2019 Feb 14;20(1):16. doi: 10.1186/s10194-019-0961-8.


Background: In patients with frequent migraine, prophylactic treatments are used. Patients often request non-pharmacological alternatives. One treatment option can be aerobic exercise. The value of aerobic exercise as prophylactic treatment however needs to be determined.

Methods: A systematic review and meta-analysis was performed to investigate the result of aerobic exercise on the number of migraine days, duration and pain intensity in patients with migraine. After screening three online databases, PubMed, Cochrane library and Web of Science, using predefined in- and exclusion criteria, six studies were retained. Pooling of data was performed when possible.

Results: Significant reductions in the number of migraine days after aerobic exercise treatment were found with a mean reduction of 0.6 ± 0.3 migraine days/month. Other outcomes were too variable to pool due to heterogeneity of outcome measurements. Unpooled data revealed small to moderate reductions in attack duration (20-27%) and pain intensity (20-54%) after aerobic exercise intervention. Various exercise intensities are applied.

Conclusion: There is moderate quality evidence that in patients with migraine aerobic exercise therapy can decrease the number of migraine days. No conclusion for pain intensity or duration of attacks can be drawn. Effect sizes are small due to a lack of uniformity. For future studies, we recommend standardized outcome measures and sufficiently intense training programs.

Trial registration: CRD42018091178 .

Keywords: Exercise; Headache; Headache characteristics; Migraine; Physical therapy; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Migraine Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Migraine Disorders / therapy*
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Severity of Illness Index