Headaches the Day After Physical Activity

Regular exercise provides many health benefits, including lower blood pressure, increased energy, reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers and weight management. Sometimes, however, individuals may develop painful headaches the day after strenuous exercise, including weight lifting and high-intensity cardio exercises. Various preventative measures can be taken to reduce or eliminate exercise-induced headaches. If your headaches worsen over time or cause other health problems, you may need to consult a physician.


Headaches that occur the day after exercise are known as exertion headaches. Exercises including swimming, tennis, rowing, weight lifting and high-elevation hiking have been associated with causing headaches.


Exercise headaches are classified into two categories. MayoClinic.com explains that primary exercise headaches are characterized by throbbing pain on both sides of the head after intense exercise. Secondary exercise headaches have the same symptoms as primary headaches, but are coupled with double vision, vomiting, loss of consciousness and neck rigidity, and can last several days longer than primary headaches.


Overexertion and strenuous activity often cause the body to produce more sweat, causing dehydration. A common side effect of dehydration is the development of a headache. High altitude and exertion are also factors in causing exercise headaches because they can create an oxygen deficit in the blood and muscle tissues, which disrupts the pH balance of the blood, such as an excess of lactic acid. MayoClinic.com also suggests that one theory for exercise headaches is related to dilation of the blood vessels in the skull, which overwhelms the skull with pressure due to excess blood flow.


Hydration is key to avoiding exercise-induced headaches. Drink water while you exercise and especially after you exercise. Replenish your electrolyte stores after exercise by consuming sport drinks. Eat a meal of complex carbohydrates 3 to 4 hours before working out to give you adequate energy for your work. Eat protein and complex carbohydrates after exercise to replenish energy stores and regulate blood sugar levels in your body. You should discuss treatments for your headaches with your physician. For the occasional onset of exercise headaches, you can take anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuoprofen or indomethacin before working out.


You may need to lessen the intensity or length of your workout regimen. EverydayHealth.com suggests that you should avoid high-impact exercise like running or kickboxing if you have a tendency to develop exertion headaches as these types of exercise increase stress on the head, neck and back.

When you work out, you should also slowly ease into higher intensity workouts by warming up properly and slowing down at the end of your workout with a proper cool-down routine. A 2000 article published in the Journal of Exercise Physiology by Greg Bradley-Popovich, M.S., and M. Doug McGuff, M.D., explains that improper tapering of strenuous exercise may cause migraines in some individuals.


If your headaches worsen over time or cause you to feel dizzy, sick to your stomach or inhibit you from performing daily tasks, it is important that you discuss this with your doctor. MayoClinic.com explains that secondary exercise headaches are caused by underlying medical problems such as a tumor, internal bleeding or heart disease. Such conditions may reflect a more serious problem and you should seek immediate medical care in the event that you have a headache of this nature.

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