Why Do I Get a Severe Headache Hours After Running?

Teenage Girl Visits Doctor's Office With Headaches
Severe post-run headaches need to be medically evaluated. (Image: Monkey Business Images Ltd/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

Headaches after a run should not happen. If you get a headache after exercising, your doctor needs to know what is happening so he can run different diagnostic tests and rule out different conditions. This is not the time to think, “It’s just a headache. Medication is all I need.” Mild exertion -- sneezing, straining, bending, lifting or running -- should not cause head pain.

Benign Exertional Headache

While exercise can usually help ease the pain of a tension headache, if you suffer from severe headaches after a run, discuss this with your doctor. She may diagnose you with benign exertional headache, which can be triggered by an event as innocent as a sneeze or significant as a vigorous run. If you develop a BEH, you may have pain for only a few moments or for several hours.

If you suffer from migraine headaches, do not exercise during a migraine attack.

Neurological Problems

Abnormalities within the brain can trigger a severe exertional headache. When your doctor knows about your symptoms, he can schedule a magnetic resonance imaging of your brain or a magnetic resonance angiography, which focuses on the blood vessels within your brain. If you have an inherited vulnerability to migraine headaches, you are more likely to suffer from exertional headaches.

Your doctor will also check your blood pressure, perform a thyroid screening test and, in the case of a suspected subarachnoid hemorrhage, a lumbar puncture, according to the Robbins Headache Clinic.

Conditions to Consider

If you develop severe headaches during or after a run or other physical activity, your doctor will want to rule out an obstructive lesion in your lower aorta. Other medical problems that need to be considered and ruled out include arteriovenous malformation, tumors, a subarachnoid hemorrhage from an aneurysm, a colloid cyst of the third ventricle, chronic subdural hematoma, tumor of the posterior fossa, platybasia, basilar impression, Arnold-Chiari, hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, hypertension, pheochromocytoma, meningitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or stroke.

Headache Treatments

Anti-inflammatory medication -- naproxen or indomethacin -- when taken one to two hours ahead of an exercise session may help ward off headaches. The usual dosages are 50 or 75 mg of indomethacin or 500 mg of naproxen. Your doctor may prescribe 40 mg of propranolol. Other helpful medications are aspirin, ibuprofen or ergotamine.

If you already have a severe headache after a run, the treatments for migraine headaches or severe muscle contractions may be helpful. These include putting cold compresses on your head, taking medication and resting in a dark, quiet room. Over-the-counter painkillers that contain caffeine may also help, or your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat your migraines.

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