Aly Raisman didn’t realize she had migraines: ‘As an athlete I powered through’

Aly Raisman is an amazing gymnast. And she has excelled despite incredible hurdles she never should have been subjected to. Aly recently revealed that she was suffering physically with undiagnosed migraines. Aly said she just worked through the pain when a migraine hit and blamed the intense pain on her severe hairdos. After finally receiving a diagnosis for migraines in her late 20s, Aly is working with a neurologist to manage her headaches. Instead of pushing through, she’s learning to listen to her body and treat the symptoms before they become a problem.

For years, Aly Raisman blamed her headaches on her hairstyle.

“There were many times I was training or competing when I had my hair up in a really tight bun and I had such sensitivity on my scalp,” the Olympic gold medalist tells PEOPLE. “I always thought I was getting a hair headache, but it’s actually a symptom of a migraine.”

While the 27-year-old had been experiencing migraines since she was a teen, she only recently got a diagnosis.

“For years I’ve been struggling with nausea, fatigue, light sensitivity and neck pain,” says Rasiman, who never associated her symptoms with migraines. “When I was finally diagnosed, it was validating.”

Raisman calls her diagnosis “a relief.”

“I didn’t know why I was feeling that way for so long,” she says. “It’s frustrating not to have the answers. Knowledge is power, and being able to advocate for ourselves, being able to find a neurologist to listen to me — I’m very grateful for that.”

“As an athlete I always powered through,” she says. “I didn’t take the time to actually care for myself in the way that I should have. If I had an injury I’d try to just keep going, which I really don’t do anymore. I’ve had to un-train myself from doing that because it did not help me.”

She urges others to speak to their doctors about uncomfortable symptoms. “There’s no harm in asking questions,” she says. “It’s important to be our own advocate and get those answers. We all deserve to feel good.”

To differentiate between a “normal” headache and a migraine, Dr. Blumenfeld says this: “If you’re missing activities because of the headache or your productivity is reduced, if a disabling recurrent headache interferes with your activities, you need to think about this diagnosis.”

[From People]

Serena Williams said the same thing as Aly, that as an athlete, she just played through the pain as she’d been taught to do. I hope more athletes are reading these stories and questioning their own headache stories. Full disclosure, like Serena, Aly is also a spokesperson for the migraine medication Ubrelvy. I don’t take that particular medication but if it works, great. I cannot emphasize the part about speaking to your doctor enough. To explain this to non-migraine sufferers, think about pushing through anything strenuous during your worst hangover. That’s close. As many of you know, my migraines spiraled during the pandemic, to the point of hospitalization. The complete overhaul of my migraine management has been working. *touches wood* I used to have one start in my neck almost every day that I had to manage with over the counter pills, essential oils or ice packs. I’d get break through migraines between 2-4 times a month. Since I started talking to my doctor in earnest and really listing to my body like Aly said, I’ve only had two breakthrough migraines in six months. And I can go days without even having one start in my neck. Please talk to your doctors – all of them, including your OB-GYN if you have one.

I got flashbacks when Aly talked about blaming her buns for headaches before her diagnosis. I remember when my ballet teacher would “redo” my hair for class and yes, it was excruciating. It also made me think of the braids scene in Colin in Black and White, for those of you who saw that.

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Photo credit: Instagram and Avalon Red

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20 Responses to “Aly Raisman didn’t realize she had migraines: ‘As an athlete I powered through’”

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  1. Lightpurple says:

    Aly has been through so much and is so amazing.

    And thanks for including the picture of Milo, so glad he was found safe this summer.

  2. Izzy says:

    Her symptoms would have easy led to a diagnosis. Honestly, f*ck USA Gymnastics for everything they have put young women through. If I had kids I would never let them near that sport.

  3. mellie says:

    My doctor had me switch from Maxalt to Ubrelvy this year and it is amazing. I don’t have to use it very often (maybe once a month or so when I get a migraine), but when I do, it works almost immediately and I don’t need to go take a 2 hour nap like I used to have to do when I would get a migraine and take Maxalt. Love the stuff!

    • Singtress says:

      Maxalt works amazingly for me. And as long as I eat something with it, I am good to go.
      The previous one (you know, the one we used to have to go to ER and got a shot for… then they made a pill?) — ack! Can’t remember it’s name…
      …the previous one I’d have to sit out for 45 minutes at least cause I felt like I had the flu.

  4. BusyLizzy says:

    Women tend to power through pain. In some cases our pain is not understood or minimized (see endometriosis) and we are told to work through it or ignore it. I’ve lived with some pain that my husband could not tolerate even for a few minutes.

    I wish we were not taught to shut up about our pain and did not feel shame or guilt when we express our pain / hurt.

  5. ML says:

    I do not suffer from regular migraines, but several of my friends do. Each of them has had to go on a journey to get the best care they can, because what works for some of them does not work for others. That’s part of what makes migraines and diagnosis so frustrating as well. Hugs to all of you who go through this on a regular basis! I try to help out by having their kids for dinner or sleepovers sometimes, but I know it can be really rough for sufferers.
    Yesterday, I read something interesting, but take this with a grain of salt: in The Guardian newspaper, they have an anecdotal story (18 November 2021) of one (1) man who claims to have gotten rid of his migraines through a plant-based diet. https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/science/2021/nov/18/mans-severe-migraines-completely-eliminated-on-plant-based-diet

    • Wiglet Watcher says:

      Plant based diet did not help my migraines and they were extreme enough I could never power through them or ignore the crippling pain.
      A fair amount of headaches will be diagnosed as migraines for various reasons, but a migraine cannot be confused with a headache.
      Migraines are debilitating.

  6. Willow says:

    I have had migraines for 20 years and it sucks. I can manage/avoid all of my triggers except changes in air pressure. As soon as a storm comes in, I get a migraine. And climate change doesn’t help because it seems like we have more rain and stronger storms every year. It’s been so bad the last two years I am seriously thinking of researching weather in the US and moving to the place with the most stable weather.

    • Lucy says:

      Mine are weather activated too. I’ve had two severe migraines, where I threw up and powering through wasn’t an option, but I’ve always gotten what I thought were just sinus headaches for weather changes. Probably half of them creep into the light sensitivity, migraine category.

      It still takes me time to recognize, but if you wake up at three a.m. and are trying to cover your eyes from the fire detector tiny plight, it’s a sign. Excedrin has worked for the most part for me. Texas is not the place to come if you need stable weather 😂

    • Haapa says:

      Mine are primarily caused by air pressure changes. So every fall and spring is “migraine season” for me as we shift from primarily high pressure systems to low pressure systems (sunny summers to rainy winters here in the pacific northwest) and then back again. The rain/winter weather moved in early this year in Vancouver so this fall it was September/October when I was getting on average 2-3 per week.

      • bros says:

        Mine are triggered by oxygen levels as well as glare and a pill I take to lower/sweep away excess testosterone called spironolactone. I get the horrible aural/ocular migraines where i have all the visual symptoms and a bit of mental confusion and cant reach for words easily-sort of like a mini stroke, but they dont always develop into the headache portion. they suck. 45 minutes and I cant see a screen or the road, as these weird flashing lights go across my field of vision, starting out small then growing bigger until they finally clear my peripheral vision.

  7. Cee says:

    I think I might have migraines. I went to bed Tuesday night with a slight pain in my neck and woke up and 4 am with a full raging headache. I couldn’t even get up from bed to look for my medication. Once I finally could, it took 3 more hours for it to subside. I was 2 hours late to work because of it. This has been happening to me at least 3 times a month, with milder cases each week, and I also thought it was a simple headache. Thankfully I have an appointment to see a neurologist in December but Aly’s testimonial has made me wonder if I’ve been downplaying it for years. I’m not an athlete but I have a high tolerance for pain and power through; I feel a bit idiotic.

  8. Melly says:

    It took me about 5 years to get a migraine diagnosis. I didn’t have the light sensitivity or nausea. But the pain was debilitating as the years went on. I almost cried when the dr finally told me I had migraines. I’m still trying to find the right medication. But I’ve learned to listen to my body when they’re coming on. And also to use a sick day and not work through it.

  9. JJ says:

    I used to only get occasional migraines but now I’ve been having weekly sinus related migraines since March 2020. I dream of the day when it/if it goes back to occasionally. I don’t know why but it feels so hard to advocate for myself. I have gotten a scan at the hospital (nothing) and from the dentist (for the sinus part) nothing, I guess now I need to try to push to go see a neurologist or an endocrinologist, I don’t know, it just feels so hard to push all the time, especially when my doctor is exhausted because of covid patients.

  10. Sarah I says:

    Bros, you are describing what I have, which is so strange, because I don’t hear it described often or as well as you have. I used to have what I call harvey-wallbangers, crippling pain, vomiting and nosebleeds, and now I have the aura, which starts out with interrupted vision, a small light with ragged edges, then it grows and grows until it takes over with the pulsating and swirling lights, during which I can’t think of words or function properly. Especially not drive a car, or pull over if it hits. And leaves me weak and feeling like I’ve been run over by a truck. I’ve never found anything that helps, and I’ve been to doctors. The last one given me by a doctor, don’t remember the name, he said take it as soon as it comes on and it will get rid of it and prevent them. It didn’t, and it made me more sick, instead of one migraine the day I took it, I then had three.

    What do you take Bros for your migraines. I will consider doing what everyone has said and go to a neurologist. I have had two roll-over wrecks, having been T-boned by a reckless driver twice, so I don’t know if that contributes.

    Sorry to everyone for their suffering.

  11. Aries-Mira says:

    I suffer from migraines at least once a month – they are my pre-period symptom. It’s massive pressure and pain right behind my eyes, and sometimes tearing down through my ears into my jaw and neck. Sometimes it causes me to throw up. Most times I’m completely immobile for at least 20 hours. I can also get them from chinooks and larger weather changes. And they’re hereditary! My mom and Dad both suffered from them. Eating well, drinking lots of water and regular exercise does help, but i have yet to find any kind of medication to help numb the pain without making me a zombie.

  12. Regina Falangie says:

    WOW this is why speaking out and sharing our stories helps!!! I have had terrible neck and jaw pain/clenching for the past 2 years. I had no idea it could be migraine related!!! I also get horrible headaches right behind my eyes and I’m sensitive to light. Thank you all for sharing your stories!!! When we share, we help. Thank you ❤️

  13. E says:

    Very late to the conversation, but I wanted to add these 3 ideas to look into for migraine sufferers in hopes of helping even just one person:

    1) Get blood work testing for food sensitivities (probably see a Functional Medicine practitioner)
    2) Seek out a Rolfer or someone specially trained in fascia work
    3) Dry needling done by a PT