You just ran a mile, and your head is pounding. Worse, your neck feels tight and sore. If this happens to you, you're not alone. Exercise headaches are somewhat common and not always serious. However, they can be signs of dangerous medical conditions. No matter what type of injury seems to be affecting your head and neck, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Types of Exercise Headaches
MayoClinic.com identifies two types of exercise headaches: primary and secondary. Primary headaches are generally harmless and can often be prevented by taking medication. Secondary headaches, however, can indicate serious underlying conditions, including brain bleeding, a tumor or coronary artery disease. Secondary headaches may be painful enough to require emergency medical attention.
Exercise Headache Symptoms
It's important to know which type you may be experiencing. Primary headaches are throbbing, occur during or after strenuous exercise and affect both sides of your head. Secondary headaches are the same, but last at least a day and are accompanied by vomiting, loss of consciousness, double vision and neck rigidity. No matter which type of headache you have, talk to your doctor to be safe.
If your symptoms occur at other times of day as well as after exercise, you might suffer from tension headaches. Tension headaches can affect you in all types of situations and are sometimes brought on by overexertion. Tension headaches tend to start in the back of your head, making it feel as if it's being squeezed. The muscles in your neck, shoulders and jaw can feel tight and sore. Tension headaches affect up to 78 percent of the population, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
If your pain feels more centered in your neck, it might be a neck strain. This can be uncomfortable but not dangerous, and can be brought on by any unnatural movement of your neck and head -- even by whiplash from a sports injury. For neck strain and whiplash, your best bet is to avoid moving your head and neck. You may want to take a reasonable amount of over-the-counter pain medication and apply an ice pack. If the pain persists for over a week or your neck is extremely stiff, talk to your doctor about treatment.
If your headache and neck pain are fading by the time you've finished this article, you're probably safe. Still, it's a good idea to figure out the cause of your pain. Think about your workout: Did you overexert yourself? Push too hard? Exercise in the heat or at high altitude? Try to avoid those risk factors from now on. If your headache and neck pain persist or give you more than a moderate amount of discomfort, call your doctor for advice. Because of the risks attached to serious exercise headaches, it's better to be safe than sorry.