OUCH(UK) Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headache


Advice Line

0800 6696 824

Intense Exercise as a treatment?

8 posts / 0 new
Last post
#1 Mon, 14/06/2021 - 19:41
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: 14/06/2021 - 18:17

Intense Exercise as a treatment?

I've been a sufferer of cluster headaches for about 30 years now, and during that time I've tried many ways of trying to deal with them -hiding away in a dark room curled in a ball in my bed, rocking back and forth, deperately massaging my head, trying to flatten the bulging vein in my temple with my fingers, ice, even drinking my way through it (before I worked out that alcohol was a trigger...doh!).

Then around 15 years ago, I discovered that exercise seemed to help alleviate them...this was an absolute game-changer for me.

These days, when I feel a headache coming on, or even if I'm fully in the midst of one, I can usually get rid of it within 10 mins or so, by performing intense physical exercise.
Usually, I'll do things like burpies, squat jumps, pushups, or if I'm able to go outside then maybe shuttle runs (sprinting back and forth).
I imagine though, that the important bit is to get your heart rate up, and they type of exercise that suits will probably depend on your level of fitness.

Is this something that works for anyone else?

I know triggers and effective treatments are different for different people, but maybe it's worth trying for some of you out there?

I'd love to know if this helps anyone out there, or if there's been any research in this area?

Thu, 05/01/2023 - 17:03
Last seen: 1 year 5 months ago
Joined: 05/01/2023 - 16:51

Hi Mark,

as it happens I do exactly the same. My heads start in dec/jan and last 6-7 weeks. I'll get 2-3 heads per night starting at 2am. Been tracking them for the past  18year and tried everything under the sun to help.

by chance I jumped on the rowing machine to help regulate my breathing a few years ago and found it help reduce the  pain/impact. So now much like you I do HIIT in the middle of the night whilst they happen.

im a bit of data nerd so I track body temp/heart rates/O2 levels and found that my O2 rockets and the only conclusion I have it's that it's similar to those using O2 to help manage the symptoms.

happy to swap note of you want to connect.


Sat, 11/03/2023 - 10:01
Last seen: 10 months 1 day ago
Joined: 20/08/2021 - 11:41

Hey, I'm new to Ouch but I too have been trying everything under the sun to alleviate the headaches. Exercise is definitely something I've noticed can work. It doesn't ALWAYS work but has a much higher success rate than anything else by far. If I wake up say 6am with the onset of a headache I'll immediately whack on my clothes and shoes and get outside with the mindset of 'run and don't stop until the headache does'. I almost feel as though I'm trying to 'outrun' my headache, and 95% of the time it works. It can be a painful run but 10-15 minutes of running beats an hour of crying on the sofa any day. Glad to see this works for other people too!! Thank you for sharing.

Sat, 18/03/2023 - 11:09
Last seen: 1 month 19 hours ago
Joined: 26/02/2014 - 17:02

Hi Mark.

Exercise and fitness have helped me in the past too. I'm one of the sufferers that believe it's down to adrenalin, as the vasodialation should technically be a trigger.

If I understand correctly; High-flow 100% oxygen and sumatriptan both work through the complex process of constricting blood vessels. Neurologists use (glycerin?) to dialate blood vessels when they need to cause a CH attack during a bout.

Singing Country and Western (badly) has also aborted attacks for me, so maybe it's insanity: Who would try that during an attack??

Wed, 26/07/2023 - 20:16
Nicky Smith
Last seen: 10 months 1 day ago
Joined: 09/03/2023 - 12:07

This is really interesting thanks guys, I'll give this a try during my next episode. (exercise and the singing!) I've tried regulating my breathing during an attack to simulate the Vegas nerve via breathing exercises and it seemed to work briefly but I couldn't sustain it through the pain so gave up and went back to the rocking in a ball. Singing and gargling apparently also stimulate this nerve so maybe that's why the singing helped! Interesting what you say about adrenaline too Mark. 

Nicky Smith 

ECH sufferer 


Thu, 27/07/2023 - 16:59
Last seen: 10 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 22/07/2018 - 21:57

Hi all, I am genuinely pleased that this seems to help those of you on this thread. Unfortunately, this is an absolute no go for me, as an increased body temperature seems to be my primary trigger, alcohol being second. As an ECH sufferer, when in a bout, I cannot exercise heavily and if I was to go to the gym, play 5 aside football or badminton (all of which I do), I would have to inject within 20 mins of the session ending, without fail. I'm not sure whether increased temperature is a common trigger though, but have read plenty about CH links to the hypothalamus which regulates body temperature. Good luck with this option if it works for you. 

Fri, 28/07/2023 - 07:12
Last seen: 1 month 5 days ago
Joined: 13/07/2018 - 20:38

My experience has always been that the increase in body temperature triggers an attack when I'm in cluster, however, I do wonder whether I ever got my heart rate up into zone 5 (ie close to maximum) as Mark suggests in the original post given that my go to exercise has generally been distance running in zones 2/3.

As an aside, it was good to meet Mark at the recent conference where we had a brief but interesting discussion covering this subject.

Mon, 31/07/2023 - 19:45
Nicky Smith
Last seen: 10 months 1 day ago
Joined: 09/03/2023 - 12:07

Yes I did use to find increase body temperature used to worsen a bout, particularly during a heatwave when I seemed unable to regulate my body temperature well and my episode seemed paticularly bad but do wonder if it's all linked to  vasodilation. I tried in this year's episode to monitor my skin temp and O2 saturations but couldn't draw much from it, perhaps intense exercise as suggested actually causes vasoconstriction which helps ease the pain? as Gary I think mentioned I think you'd have to get your heart rate up to a high rate.  Everybody is different of course and achieving that will be different for us all I think, some things seem to work well for some anf not for others. Everytime I think I've worked something out there is an anomaly... Only thing I do know for sure for me, is if I'm in an episode alcohol is a huge no, attack within the hour, again I'm sure linked to vasodilation. 

Nicky Smith 

ECH sufferer 


Login to add comments

Share This

© OUCH(uk) 2024 | email: info@ouchuk.org
Registered Charity No. 1091919 | Registered in England Company No. 04339368