By Medicover Hospitals / 12 March 2022

Home | Articles | Know How to Deal With a Headache After a Workout

By Dr Jyoshna Pratty
Consultant Acute & General Physician
Published on 10/05/2022
  • Exercise headaches are caused by your workouts, which are referred to as primary exertional headaches. A headache can occur after or during a workout, regardless of whether it is strength or cardio, high or low intensity. It's not uncommon to experience a headache after exercising. You may feel pain on one side of your head or throbbing pain throughout your entire head. This can be caused due to several factors.

  • Causes of headache after an exercise

  • Exercise-induced headaches happen after engaging in strenuous physical activity like running, weight lifting, cycling, or swimming. The increased blood circulation around the head and scalp causes blood vessels to vasodilate (enlarge) that increases blood flow, resulting in this type of headache.
  • Exercise headaches are classified into two types:
    • Primary exercise headaches: These happen during or immediately after physical exercise. They usually resolve on their own and are not related to a more serious physical problem. These headaches are frequently treatable or preventable with over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
    • Secondary exercise headaches: These are much less common and are caused by an underlying health condition, such as heart disease. The severity of the headache after strenuous activity, as well as your age, may warrant a discussion with your doctor to rule out a more serious condition

    Exertional headache:

  • A primary exertional headache is caused solely by physical activity and has no underlying causes
  • Primary exertional headache symptoms include:
    • Pain on both sides of the head is common.
    • a pulsating feeling
    • The pain can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 48 hours and is similar to a migraine.
  • People may be more likely to get a primary exertional headache after exercising in hot conditions or at a high altitude.
  • A secondary exertional headache develops as a result of an underlying condition, such as:
    • heart disease
    • stroke, or bleeding in the brain
    • a tear in an artery
    • reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, which is characterized by blood vessel narrowing
    • a tumor or lesion in the brain

    Low Blood Sugar:

  • To provide energy for physical exertion, your muscles use sugar as fuel. During a strenuous workout, intense physical activity may cause a drop in the blood sugar.
  • Nondiabetics may be able to avoid exercise headaches caused by low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, by eating carbohydrates before exercising.
  • Dehydration headache:

  • Dehydration can occur if fluids are not replaced during or after exercise. Water and electrolytes keep the body hydrated, and both are lost through sweating. A headache can occur when a person is dehydrated.
  • Dehydration can also cause the following symptoms:
    • feeling thirsty
    • feeling lethargic or fatigued
    • dark yellow urine
    • passing less urine than usual
    • dry mouth or lips
    • feeling irritable
    • dizziness

    Prevention

  • It is unclear how exercise could cause headaches. It could be due to a combination of factors such as low blood sugar, dehydration, a lack of sleep, and insufficient warm-up. Here are a few easy steps to be taken to prevent exercise headaches:
  • Stay Hydrated and Eat Well:

  • Eat a solid meal or snack and drink water one and a half hour before your workout. Continue to use the swimming pool during and after your workout to replenish fluids lost through sweating. Eat a piece of fruit or a snack before or during exercise to avoid a sudden drop in blood sugar. Choose wisely and avoid foods that may cause headaches.
  • Warming Up and Cooling Down:

  • Although it may appear that carefully warming up and cooling down is unnecessary, sudden onset or cessation of exercise can cause headaches in some people. Take five or ten minutes before and after your session to stretch or slowly warm-up and cool down.
  • Choose Your Exercise With Caution:

  • Mild aerobic exercises such as jogging, swimming, walking, and cycling are the best for your head. Exercising for 30 minutes three times per week is a reasonable goal, but tailor your routine to your abilities. Allow yourself six weeks to adjust to your new routine before evaluating its benefits. If you’re just starting to exercise, slowly ramp up your routine, as sudden increases in workout intensity can be a trigger.
  • When to see a doctor?

  • Anyone who is experiencing exercise headaches but is unaware of any underlying conditions should consult a doctor.
  • People who have any existing heart conditions or risk factors for heart disease should talk to the doctor about exercise-related headaches, especially if they have neck or jaw pain besides the headache.
  • This includes individuals who have a history of:
    • smoking
    • obesity
    • diabetes
    • heart attack
    • high blood pressure
    • high cholesterol
  • Various tests may be done by a doctor to define any underlying conditions that may cause headaches after exercising. Book appointment now if you are having severe headaches for more than 48 hours.
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