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7 Ways to Deal With Migraine When You Have a Physical Job

Managing Migraine

April 26, 2024

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Photography by FG Trade/Getty Images

Photography by FG Trade/Getty Images

by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO


by Clara Siegmund


Medically Reviewed by:

Susan W. Lee, DO


You can manage migraine in and out of the workplace by keeping a rescue kit handy, reducing exposure to potential triggers, and knowing your rights for accommodations and support. Learn how.

Having migraine and having a job isn’t always easy.

Whether you’re on your feet all day, doing heavy lifting, or working outside, your work will likely affect migraine.

Here are some tips for how to deal with migraine when you have a physical job, including strategies to try while on the job and ways to prepare outside of work.

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1. Reduce your exposure to triggers in the workplace

While you’re at work, try to limit the things that you know trigger migraine for you.

It isn’t always simple, but limiting your exposure to triggers as much as possible may help reduce your risk of having a migraine attack at work.

Here are some common migraine triggers and ways you may be able to address them.

Bright or flickering lights

Increased sensitivity to light can occur both before and during migraine attacks. To manage light sensitivity, try using dimmer lights near your workstation, if safety standards allow. If there are any broken or flickering lights near you, request that they be fixed.

You might also be able to wear blue light glasses to lessen the impact of light.

Loud noises

Exposure to loud noise can also trigger migraine attacks and increase their intensity. If it’s safe to do so, try wearing noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to help reduce noise levels around you.


Not eating enough and getting too hungry can trigger migraine. To keep your body nourished and full, avoid missing mealtimes and make sure you eat complete, nutritious meals regularly.

If possible, you might also want to keep snacks or protein shakes on hand for unexpected bouts of hunger.

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2. Know your rights

Before migraine hits, make sure you understand:

  • your contract
  • your employer’s policies regarding sick leave and time off
  • your particular rights under workplace protections

In the United States, people with migraine may be eligible for workplace protections under these legal frameworks:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act: requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace
  • Family and Medical Leave Act: allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without the risk of losing their job
  • Employer-provided short- and long-term disability insurance: provides income replacement for employees who cannot work due to injury or illness unrelated to their job
  • Workers’ compensation: provides medical coverage and income replacement for employees injured in the workplace

Migraine claims under these frameworks are usually considered on a case-by-case basis.

In most cases, you’re eligible for protection only if your employer is aware that you have migraine. Your options for legal action may be limited if you didn’t inform your employer beforehand.

It’s also useful to know your union representative (or your supervisor, if you don’t have a union). This way, you know where to turn for help advocating for yourself if and when you need it.

3. Take care of yourself during your workday

Dealing with migraine in the workplace is not just about limiting triggers. It’s also about making sure that you’re caring for your body in the way it needs.

Here are some tips for taking care of yourself at work.

Stay well hydrated

Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated can help you avoid migraine attacks. The American Migraine Foundation recommends that you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day in addition to any other beverages you have.

Sports drinks with electrolytes can also be helpful, although it’s important to pay attention to sugar content if sugar is a migraine trigger for you.

Snack nutritiously

In addition to regular meals, snacks can help reduce the risk of migraine attacks. Snacking can help you avoid getting too hungry and keep your blood sugar levels steady.

When possible, try to eat small, nutritious snacks such as nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits. Focus on protein intake with some carbs for both quick and sustained energy. And again, be mindful of sugar content.

Take breaks

Taking breaks can give your body rest from physical exertion and reduce strain. Try to stretch out your muscles, move your body in a relaxed way, and get fresh air and natural light as frequently as possible.

Breaks don’t need to be long. Multiple short breaks throughout your workday can be helpful for recovery.

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4. Make yourself and your working conditions as comfortable as possible

A physical job requires physical labor. This can be taxing for anybody, but particularly for people with migraine.

Here are some tips for making yourself as physically comfortable as possible while you work.

Pay attention to your posture and body alignment

Migraine often comes with neck, shoulder, and back discomfort. Neck pain can even trigger migraine.

To help ease upper body pain, be aware of your posture as you work, making sure your body is properly aligned when possible. Relax and stretch your muscles regularly, especially when doing repetitive movements. Consider using supportive braces as needed.

Set your feet up for success

Comfortable footwear is key for jobs where you’re on your feet all day. To help relieve foot, leg, and back discomfort, wear shoes with proper arch and heel support.

If you work on hard surfaces such as concrete, footwear with thick, shock-absorbing soles can help insulate and cushion your feet. Insoles can also be useful to adapt your shoes to your body.

Consider using an anti-fatigue mat or anti-slip mat at your workstation

In addition to comfortable footwear, anti-fatigue or anti-slip mats can help increase foot comfort, absorb shock from walking and standing on hard surfaces, and relieve pressure and discomfort on your body.

Consult a supervisor when installing a mat at your workstation to ensure that it meets safety standards.

5. Tell co-workers about migraine

If you feel comfortable doing so, consider telling your co-workers about your experience with migraine.

Even something simple like “Sometimes I get [bad, painful, exhausting] migraine attacks and need to rest” can help create a more accepting and migraine-friendly workplace.

This may help you feel more at ease with co-workers and supervisors if you need to make migraine-related requests such as:

  • accommodations at your workstation
  • shift swaps or reduced hours on migraine days
  • schedule changes to limit sleep cycle disturbances
  • sick days and time off as needed
  • a helping hand or a kind word as you recover
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6. Keep a migraine rescue kit at work

To make sure you’re ready if a migraine attack happens at work, have a migraine rescue kit handy somewhere nearby and easily accessible, whether that’s near your workstation, in a break room, or in your car.

Stock it with anything that helps you manage symptoms when migraine strikes, such as:

  • prescription migraine medication
  • pain relievers
  • anti-nausea medication
  • ginger chews
  • cool patches
  • heating pads
  • essential oils
  • peppermint or chamomile tea bags
  • electrolyte beverage enhancers

When it comes to prescription migraine medication, consider talking with your doctor about finding a medication that you can safely take at work. This way, you can be sure that side effects won’t affect your ability to perform on the job.

7. Control what you can outside of work

You can’t always control what happens during working hours.

But adopting a migraine-supportive lifestyle outside of work (as much as you can) may help you avoid migraine attacks both on and off the clock.

Here are a few tips for migraine management:

  • Try to get enough sleep each night.
  • Eat regular meals.
  • Look for healthy ways to reduce or manage stress.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Quit or reduce smoking, if you smoke.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Monitor your sugar intake.
  • Monitor your caffeine intake.
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The takeaway

Dealing with migraine when you have a physical job is no easy task. Still, there are ways to cope with migraine, both during and outside of work.

By limiting your chances of a migraine attack both on and off the clock and addressing symptoms as necessary, you may feel more prepared to meet your workday head-on.

Medically reviewed on April 26, 2024

8 Sources

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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