Deep Breathing Through a Migraine

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 08, 2021

Migraines can interrupt daily schedules with pain and tension. In addition to head discomfort, migraines can cause pain in the shoulders, neck, and back.

In general, a migraine is a sign of emotional upset or stress of some type. Mental conditions such as anxiety and depression contribute to the buildup that triggers a painful migraine. Other medical conditions such as high blood pressure can also contribute due to constricted blood vessels.

Many natural activities help ease the tension that triggers a migraine. Simple breathing techniques, for example, can help to release this tension and deal with managing the pain long term.

How Does Breathing Affect Migraines?

Stress and tension can produce inflammation in the body. The body’s response to this inflammation contributes to migraine pain. Breathing exercises can help relax both your mind and body and ease the symptoms of migraines.

Stress and tension can lead to fast, short breathing. This type of breathing activates the sympathetic nervous symptom, which controls your body’s fight or flight response. By contrast, slow, deep, controlled breathing exercises initiate the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the area of your central nervous system that controls relaxation and rest.

Deep breathing can reduce the high-stress levels that trigger migraines.  The slow, deep motion of inhaling and exhaling is known to reduce the body’s overall response to stress, ultimately leading to decreased levels of inflammation.

Breathing exercises can in the end induce relaxation — enough to get rid of the associated muscle pain in the neck and shoulders.  The exercises are an important treatment for migraine management. Breathing benefits the body by controlling stress and promoting relaxation.

How Do I Breathe Through a Migraine?

Here are a few breathing methods and practices that can help ease a migraine.

  • Rhythmic breathing. This exercise encourages you to inhale and exhale slowly. To begin, close your eyes. As you breathe in, count to five and visualize your abdomen filled with air. Then, as you breathe out, count to five again, becoming aware of how your body changes as it naturally relaxes.
  • Meditation. A relaxation method that focuses on being still, meditation stops the flow of random thoughts by forcing you to concentrate on a single thing, like breathing rhythmically. To begin this practice, breathe in slowly for four seconds, hold, and exhale slowly for four seconds, aware of each breath. When done regularly, meditation can help control your body’s response to pain.
  • Music Therapy. Choose soothing music to listen to while you focus on your breathing, taking slow, deep breaths. The selected music should lift your mood. Instrumental choices may work best. This breathing exercise should be done in a comfortable space free from distractions. This practice aids in relaxation and is considered energy-boosting, calming, and effective for migraine relief.

Show Sources


Brisbane Migraine and Headache Clinic: “Breathing Techniques for Migraine and Headache Relief.” “What Breathing Exercises Help with Migraine Relief?”

Mayo Clinic: “Migraines.” “7 Breathing Exercises for Headaches."

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