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.”
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.
Photo credit: Instagram and Avalon Red