Head Pressure in the Back of the Head Brought on by Exercise

Pressure in the back of the head during or after exercise can be troubling, especially if you have never experienced it before. It can be caused by a variety of training errors and conditions, some that require the attention of a doctor. Because head pressure can be excruciating, you should understand why it can develop during exercise and how it can be treated.

A woman is holding rings and appears to have a headache. (Image: DeanDrobot/iStock/Getty Images)

Symptoms

Exercise-related pressure in the back of the head can vary from mild to extreme. Pressure can also affect the front or both sides of the head. Additional symptoms can include rigidity in the neck, pain, a throbbing sensation, double vision, vomiting and even loss of consciousness. Symptoms can last anywhere from five minutes to several days.

Causes

During exercise, especially strenuous exercise, the blood vessels inside your skull dilate to increase blood flow and oxygen. This dilation stretches the nerves around the brain, which can trigger pressure and pain in the back of the head during or after exercise. Pressure can be exacerbated if you exercise excessively or push yourself during your workout. An illness such as a sinus infection, dehydration, exercising in hot weather or working out at a high altitude can also trigger head pressure.

Treatment and Prevention

Reduce your exercise intensity and duration. Concentrate on breathing to maximize the flow of oxygen to your brain and muscles. Take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen to help ease pressure. If exercise-related head pressure and pain is chronic, a doctor can prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication such as indomethacin. Drink about 8 oz. of water before you exercise and another 8 oz. halfway through your routine.

Warnings

Seek medical attention if pressure in the back of the head is severe, chronic or develops abruptly during or after exercise or you have never experienced symptoms like it before. Although head pressure is not typically dangerous, it can signal an underlying medical condition, such as blood vessel abnormalities, bleeding in the membranes of the brain, a tumor or cerebrospinal fluid flow obstruction.

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