Many people experience what is known as an exercise headache, or a throbbing pain during or soon after physical exertion. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Activities most commonly associated with exercise headaches are running, rowing, tennis, swimming and weightlifting.” Exercise headaches may be one of two different types — primary and secondary — and can last anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days. If you experience exercise headaches, it’s important to take note of the type and duration of the pain in order to rule out secondary headaches, as these may be an indicator of more serious underlying issues.
Ways exercise can cause headaches. There are several different factors that are unique to physical exertion and may be the cause of exercise headaches, though without controlled studies on the subject, it is difficult to say with certainty what causes these headaches. For most primary headaches, it may be the heightened blood pressure that is experienced during and after heavy exertion. Dehydration and loss of electrolytes occurs with sweating, so these may also contribute to the post-exercise headache. During exercise, the pulse rate is elevated and oxygen demands rise significantly, so an exercise headache may be the body’s response to an inadequate oxygen supply.
Avoiding exercise-related headaches. Higher altitudes and higher exertion levels are both linked to exercise headaches, so opting for lower-impact and longer duration of exercise — especially at high altitudes — may help you avoid exercise headaches. Make sure to drink plenty of water regularly throughout periods of heavy activity, and refrain from doing these activities in extreme temperatures. Pre-exercise stretches and warm-ups seem to help prevent exercise headaches in some people. If the headaches persist for several days, the pain becomes severe or the headaches are accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea or fainting, consult your doctor. While most exercise headaches are relatively easy to remedy and are not indicative of a serious condition, it can sometimes be a symptom of a condition that needs to be evaluated and treated by a qualified medical professional.