Exercise Headaches: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Exercise Headaches

Exercise headaches are often called exertion headaches because they occur during physical activity or afterward. Their duration typically varies from two hours to two days. You should discuss the headaches with your healthcare provider, even though there is usually no underlying cause for them. Several strategies may help you prevent migraines, and treating them in the same way as other headaches may help.

What is an exertion headache?

Exercise headaches are caused by pain that occurs during or shortly after physical exercise. It can last a few days but usually disappears after a few minutes or hours. No underlying disorder is usually present.

Read: Hormonal Headaches

What is the duration of exertion headaches?

Exercise headaches typically occur three to six months after starting the activity, lasting for five minutes to 48 hours.

What are the symptoms of headaches after a workout?

The following symptoms are common after exercise:

  • Neck pain
  • Headaches on either side of the head
  • Throbbing or pulsating
  • A headache that results from exertion is sometimes described as the “worst headache you’ve ever experienced”

These headaches are sometimes described as migraines and may include the following symptoms:

  • Blind spots in the vision
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Light sensitivity

What causes exercise headaches?

An excessive amount of blood and oxygen is needed when you exercise. Exercise headaches are believed to result from increased blood flow from the veins and arteries during an activity. Those expansions and blood pressures put pressure on the skull, causing pain.

Read: Post-Traumatic Headache

What activities may cause exertional headaches?

The following activities may trigger an exertional headache:

  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Intercourse with someone
  • Exercises such as running or aerobics
  • Struggling to go to the bathroom
  • Weightlifting

Exercise headaches and weightlifters’ headaches are often called exertion headaches because they are often caused by exercise.

Diagnosis of exertion headache

People who regularly suffer from severe headaches should see their healthcare provider. Most exertional headaches aren’t related to underlying conditions or diseases. However, your provider may order some tests to rule out any possible causes:

  • Angiograms are used to examine blood vessels. These are commonly computed tomography angiograms (CTA) and magnetic resonance angiograms (MRA).
  • An MRI shows images of the brain.
  • An incision is made in the back to take a sample of spinal fluid for testing (lumbar puncture).

In cases where an underlying cause cannot be identified, if you have had at least two headaches that:

  • Have been caused by physical activity
  • Began while participating in physical activity
  • Ended within 48 hours

Read: New Daily Persistent Headache

What is the treatment for an exercise headache?

There are some medications that may help with exercise-induced headaches. These include:

  • NSAIDs prescribed by your doctor for short-term use, such as indomethacin
  • Those who cannot take NSAIDs should consider beta-blockers, such as propranolol and nadolol
  • Short-term use of NSAIDs like naproxen, which is available over-the-counter

What can I do to avoid headaches after exercise?

Exercise-induced headaches are best avoided by avoiding the activity that triggers them. Nevertheless, if that’s not feasible, you can try various strategies to reduce your chances. For instance:

  • Do not work out in extreme temperatures
  • Don’t exercise at altitudes you’re not accustomed to
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Sleep eight hours a night
  • Try different activities to see if they trigger headaches
  • Get your body warm and cool correctly, and gradually increase the intensity as you go
  • Whenever it’s hot and sunny, you should wear clothes that wick away moisture
  • Make sure you eat a healthy diet and don’t consume processed foods or preservative-laden foods

Exertion headaches can be prevented through the use of certain supplements, such as:

  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Feverfew
  • Magnesium
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • In cases of poor tolerability of indomethacin, boswellia can be used as an alternative

What is the outlook for people with headaches after exercising?

Exercise-related headaches usually subside quickly. Most last no more than 48 hours, and many are gone within minutes. It usually requires three to six months for the episodes to resolve on their own.

Read: Sinus Headache

Do I need medical attention for exertion headaches?

It is important to speak to your healthcare provider if you experience one of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden and severe headaches
  • You experience headaches that last more than two days
  • Sleepiness or confusion may accompany the headaches
  • It may cause you to faint


Exercise headaches occur when you are physically active. An attack can come on quickly and last for minutes or hours, or it can last for days. You should speak to your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying diseases or disorders. Treatment for headaches, which typically stop occurring after a few months, can be achieved with medications and other strategies.

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