Working out is supposed to leave you feeling great, but if a strenuous exercise session leaves you with a painful headache — such as pressure in front of your head after exercise, or if your head feels like it's expanding — then you might be worried you're doing something wrong.
Exercise-induced headaches are fairly common, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take some caution with them. In some cases, you should check with your doctor to make sure there's not an underlying concern. If there's nothing else wrong, you can still adopt a few habits to prevent exercise headaches from happening.
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What Is an Exercise Headache?
The Mayo Clinic explains that exercise-induced headaches are brought on by strenuous physical activity. They're most commonly associated with running, rowing, tennis, swimming and weightlifting. Cleveland Clinic refers to them as jogger's headaches and orgasmic headaches, as jogging and sex are typical causes.
There are two types of exercise-induced headaches. The first type, primary exercise headache, is harmless and not connected to underlying problems. These are often marked by throbbing or pressure in the front of the head after exercise, or by pressure that is bilateral, meaning it is felt on both sides of the head.
Primary exercise headaches can last anywhere from five minutes to 48 hours, but the American Migraine Foundation notes that they are often self-limiting, meaning that somebody who experiences primary exercise headaches might feel them for three to six months and then they go away on their own.
While most headaches are marked by pressure, if your head feels like it's expanding, that might be because of blood volume. Although the Mayo Clinic notes that there is no known cause of exercise headaches, most experts agree that they can likely be attributed to the increased blood flow to the skull that exercise demands.
The other type of exercise headache, and the one that's more a cause for concern, is the secondary exercise headache, which is caused by an underlying problem that requires medical attention. Some problems that might be associated with secondary exercise headache are tumors or coronary artery disease, according to Mayo Clinic. These headaches will likely be accompanied by vomiting, loss of consciousness and double vision. This is why it's important to check with your doctor if you have exercise-induced headaches.
Preventing Exercise Headaches
Even if there's no underlying medical condition, feeling pressure in the front of the head after exercise is no fun. If you have exercise headaches and they are affecting your ability to enjoy your workout, there are several steps you can take.
Cleveland Clinic points out that headaches can be exacerbated by dehydration, change in altitude and hot or humid weather. Most people can avoid exercise headaches by getting plenty of fluids before their workout and avoiding strenuous activity in unfavorable weather. In some cases, sunglasses and lightweight clothing can be enough to help you cope with glaring sunshine and high temperatures.
Exercise headaches might also be prevented by proper warmups and cooldowns, which reduce sudden changes in blood flow, according to Harvard Medical School. You can also try anti-inflammatory medicines before strenuous workouts.
Another tip is to mix up your workout routine so that you are avoiding exercises that consistently cause your headache. Instead, focus on activities that aren't triggers. If running gives you a headache, try cycling instead, for example.
By taking these steps, you can still enjoy regular workouts and make exercise a part of your healthy lifestyle while avoiding the unwanted pain of a headache.
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.