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A Sharp Pain in the Head When Exercising

by
author image Ellen Douglas
Ellen Douglas has written on food, gardening, education and the arts since 1992. Douglas has worked as a staff reporter for the Lakeville Journal newspaper group. Previously, she served as a communication specialist in the nonprofit field. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut.
A Sharp Pain in the Head When Exercising
Some people suffer from sharp pains during or just after working out. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

Although many people find relief from chronic headaches by undertaking a healthy eating and exercise schedule, an unlucky few find that working out causes sharp head pain. Rather than ignoring this symptom and powering through the pain, consult your doctor to rule out serious causes. If possible, keep a journal of your daily routine to determine whether there's any correlation between your lifestyle and your workout headaches, or if other symptoms may point to a diagnosis.

Types of Head Pain

If the pain lasts only a few seconds and is triggered by even slight movement, you may have trigeminal neuralgia, a kind of nerve damage. Other types of exercise headaches may last longer and may be accompanied by other symptoms. If the pain in you head goes on for several days or is accompanied by secondary symptoms such as vomiting, double vision, passing out or a stiff neck, seek immediate medical attention. Possible conditions range from sinus infection to bleeding in the brain and arterial blockage. Primary exercise headaches without additional symptoms don't have an underlying condition and may be related to factors that constrict blood vessels. Even if your workout headaches don't feature secondary, dramatic symptoms, it's always best to ask your doctor is you need a physical examination in order to clear you for continued exercise.

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Improper Nutrition and Hydration

Brown University’s Health Education program says that some people throw themselves into a weight-loss program by skipping meals and exercising vigorously. One of the dangers is an increased incidence of headaches during workouts. Poor eating habits may lead to hunger headaches; the related dehydration also may contribute to the pain in your head. To avoid these side effects, think like a seasoned athlete when you craft your workout plan. Get the nutrients and fluids you need to fuel your body through a workout, especially on hot and humid days.

Caffeine Withdrawal

Some head pains during physical exertion may stem from caffeine withdrawal, according to Rice University. If you normally drink coffee, tea, soda or other caffeinated beverages, your blood pressure is increased slightly. This increase is not necessarily a threat to your health, but if you suddenly go without caffeine for about 18 hours, the change in blood pressure can cause blood vessel constriction and related pain. Headaches as a result of caffeine withdrawal are common and seem to be worsened by exercise, the university says. If you suspect that caffeine and its effects may be causing the sharp pain in your head during workouts, either slowly cut back on caffeinated beverages or have a cup of coffee or tea a few hours before exercising to avoid withdrawal headaches.

Unexplained Head Pain

Sometimes no secondary condition exists to explain sharp head pain during workouts, nor are lifestyle choices to blame. In these cases, some people may simply have systems that respond to physical exertion by constricting the blood vessels, according to Mayo Clinic. This constriction leads to sharp or throbbing head pain.

Treatment and Prevention

If a secondary condition causes head pain during workouts, treatment varies depending on the root cause. Nerve-related conditions such as Trigeminal Neuralgia, for example, may respond to anti-convulsing medication. Tumors or brain bleeding may require surgery or other aggressive therapy. For unexplained sharp pains that seem to be unrelated to caffeine, dehydration or poor nutrition, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication to ease constriction of blood vessels during workouts. You may also find relief by switching to another kind of exercise, or by working out during the coolest times of the day or in an air-conditioned gym. Monitor your caffeine intake and stay hydrated and well nourished before exercising.

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