Serena Williams

‘Playing Through the Pain': Serena Williams Recounts Long Struggle With Migraines

The tennis superstar said she has suffered from migraines since her 20s and has been dealing with them regularly while at home during the pandemic

Serena Williams
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Serena Williams has revealed that she was often defeating two opponents at once while achieving tennis greatness during her legendary career.

Williams, 38, told People she has been struggling with periodic migraines since her 20s, often playing through them on her way to 23 Grand Slam singles titles. She even hid mention of them to her father, Richard, who served as her coach for much of her career.

"Migraine isn’t a knee injury — it’s something you can’t physically see,” she said. “You can’t really say, ‘Oh, Dad, I have a migraine. I’m going to stop playing.’ People are like, ‘I don’t see swelling. I don’t see bruising. Tough it out.’ I got used to playing through the pain."

Williams also declined to mention any migraine attacks after tough losses in tournaments, feeling like it would sound like an excuse.

“You can't go into a press conference with the media asking, ‘Well, what happened?’ and say ‘Well I had a migraine attack,’ ” she said. “I had to figure out a way to work through it.”

Perseverance has been a defining characteristic for the tennis star, who has fought through various shoulder and knee issues throughout her career. She also revealed in 2018 that she won the 2017 Australian Open singles title while 9 weeks pregnant with her now 2-year-old daughter, Olympia.

Williams also has a history of blood clots, which created a life-threatening situation of intense bleeding after she had an emergency cesarean section to deliver her daughter.

Her migraines have become an issue off the court as well during the coronavirus pandemic as she spends time at home with Olympia and her husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

"It’s all incredibly stressful,” Williams said. "I was dealing with a lot of stress and unknown factors and things that I wasn’t used to, and so I think that was contributing to my migraine attacks and making them more frequent.

"I would be so intense with the baby all day long, and then, at night, I would have this long migraine."

Williams, who appears in Nike's powerful new ad about the unifying power of sports, has been preparing for this month's U.S. Open with a little help from her tiny new tennis partner — Olympia.

She also believes she has found a medication to relieve her migraines, signing on as a spokeswoman for the drug Ubrelvy, which she was prescribed by her doctor.

There are 37 million people in the country living with migraine or other severe headache disorders, according to the American Headache Society, a group of health care providers focused on studying headaches and face pain and their treatments. The pandemic has disrupted many in-person treatments for migraines, leading the AHS to recommend self-administered medications as well as neuromodulation devices, which manipulate the central pain system using electrical or magnetic pulses. A recent study also found that yoga could help migraine sufferers. If you are dealing with migraines, talk to your doctor about treatments that could work for you.

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