Why Do You Have Headache When Working Out?

Intense physical exercise can cause exertion headache. This is more common during strenuous exercises such as running, swimming, weightlifting, rowing, tennis, etc. A headache triggered by physical activity may be caused by a number of factors. Sometimes, it could be the symptom of a serious underlying condition. For this reason, the first time you get a headache when exercising, or in case it gets more severe than before, you should see a doctor immediately.

Why Do You Have Headache When Working Out?

1.     Hypoglycemia

You need extra energy during intense physical activity. This energy is supplied in form of blood glucose. When it is inadequate, you have low blood sugar or hypoglycemia and this can lead to headache during exercise. Such a headache will normally occur in the forehead and may be accompanied by hunger and fatigue.

2.     Dehydration

You lose a lot of water during exercise. If you fail to drink enough water, you are at risk of dehydration, which can cause headache. 

3.     Overexertion

Overexertion or overtraining is another common cause of headache when working out. It is more common in beginners who are determined to do more than their bodies are ready for. Most experienced people already know what their bodies can bear and are less likely to overtrain. Overexertion causes muscle tension and irritation within joints and fatigue. When this affects the neck, it leads to excess muscular tension between the neck and the skull, causing headache.

4.     Poor Technique

Poor exercise technique can cause exercise headache. If you perform exercise in a wrong way, you are very likely to have muscle tightness or injury, which can lead to headache. For example, when your head is not positioned neutrally, the tight neck muscle can cause pain in your head. 

5.     Incorrect Breathing

Your body requires a continuous supply of oxygen when you are exercising. However, it is possible that you are breathing incorrectly by holding your breath at different times. This is more common in beginners in weight training. It can lead to a buildup of pressure within the head which may present with a headache.

6.     Other Causes

Headache during exercise may also result from the following factors:

  • Ÿ   Muscle weakness
  • Ÿ   Alcohol consumption
  • Ÿ   Overheating
  • Ÿ   Lifting of excess weight
  • Ÿ   Poor nutrition
  • Ÿ   High heart rate
  • Ÿ   Excess consumption of caffeine
  • Ÿ   High humidity
  • Ÿ   Exercising at unaccustomed high altitudes

The above factors cause primary headache when working out. This type of headache has no underlying causes and may be relieved with ordinary medications such as ibuprofen. Most of such headaches can be avoided by taking simple preventive measures.

Secondary Exercise-Induced Headache

There are, however, secondary exercise-induced headache which results from serious underlying causes such as bleeding within or outside the brain, coronary artery disease and tumors. Any secondary exercise-induced headache requires immediate medical attention. It may present with the following additional symptoms:

  • Rigidity in the neck
  • Vomiting
  • Double vision
  • Loss of consciousness

The most common causes of secondary exercise-induced headache include:

  • Sinus infections
  • ŸBlood vessel abnormalities within or near the brain
  • ŸStructural deformities in the scull, neck or spine
  • Bleeding (hemorrhage) within the area between the brain and the brain-covering membranes
  • Cerebrospinal fluid obstruction
  • Tumors within the head which may be cancerous or noncancerous

Most primary headaches during exercise last for a few minutes and up to two days. On the other hand, secondary headaches associated with exercise last for one day to several days, or even longer.

How to Prevent Exercise-Induced Headache

This part mainly talks about the primary headache; for secondary headache, immediate professional help is necessary for early diagnosis and treatment.

1.     Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

If you regularly get a headache when working out, you could be having high sensitivity to sudden blood sugar changes. Take one glucose tablet to provide fast-acting replenishment. You can also take one quarter cup orange juice before exercise. Within one hour after exercise, take a high carbohydrate snack or a main meal.

2.     Hydrate for Exercise

Dehydration can cause headache during exercise.

  • To prevent this, drink two to three glasses of water (16-24 ounces) before exercise to keep your body hydrated.
  • Always carry a bottle of water or sports drink and keep seeping on it during your workout.
  • After working out, take one glass of water for every 15 minutes of exercise to rehydrate yourself. 

3.     Warm Up Before Exercising

Always do warm up before getting into strenuous exercises and slow down towards the end. This will help raise your heart rate gradually and prime your body for optimum performance, including preparing the blood vessels for increased blood flow.

4.     Maintain a Steady Pace

Exercise within your body’s ability and avoid overexertion. It helps to monitor your heart rate during exercise so that you know when you are about to exceed your target. This is especially important for beginners who may try to exercise too hard too soon. Consider getting a heart rate monitor or use the talk test method to avoid headache caused by overtraining.

5.     Choose Low-Impact Workouts

If you regularly get exercise-induced headaches, it makes sense to try different exercises. Try low-impact exercises which are less strenuous than exercises such as weightlifting.

6.     Have Proper Exercise Technique

It is essential to master proper exercise technique. When not doing exercises in which the neck is actively involved, don’t bend your neck. Develop a habit of maintaining your head, neck and spine in a neutral alignment to allow for unobstructed circulation to and from the brain. This will prevent exercise headaches caused by poor circulation.

7.     Correct You Breathing

Breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth is the correct way to breathe when working out. Now that you are aware of this, start working on correcting your breathing and soon you will be doing it automatically. Correct breathing improves your efficiency while exercising. It also prevents headache when working out.

8.     Avoid Exercising in Humid Conditions

Exercising in excessively hot or humid conditions can trigger a headache. Choose a shaded location and if indoors, ensure there is proper air circulation to reduce your risk of headache.

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