How to Manage Exercise-Induced Headaches

No one loves a headache, but there's nothing worse than getting slammed with one during a workout when you've been looking forward to getting out a day's worth of aggression. Exercise-induced headaches are sudden, intense, throbbing headache, usually on both sides of your head, during or after a workout or game. You may also have dizziness, vomiting, blurred vision, or neck rigidity if it’s more serious.

What's going on there?

There are two kinds of exercise headaches, primary and secondary. One is painful but ultimately harmless. The other can be scary. No one is sure what causes primary exercise- induced headaches, which makes them frustrating.
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They most commonly come on after running, weight lifting, or another hard, strenuous activity. Hot weather and training at a high altitude may contribute, and poor hydration could factor in as well. Determining the true cause of these headaches is sketchy because they seem so individual, but dilated blood vessels in and around your brain could contribute. This type of headache comes and goes and is treated like most headaches.

The secondary type of exercise-induced headache is caused by some underlying health problem, but even those vary widely. Bleeding in the membrane surrounding the brain, a problem with the blood vessels in the brain, a tumor, or even a sinus infection could be the cause.

How can you tell the difference between the two types? Primaries give you a throbbing and even nasty headache, but that’s all. Secondaries deliver more serious symptoms along with the head pain: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, loss of consciousness, double vision, or neck rigidity.

Your risk of developing a primary headache rises if you train in hot weather or at a high altitude. If you’re prone to having migraines, you have a higher risk of getting exercise headaches, though they aren’t the same thing. Exercise headaches come on fast, like a thunderclap, and don’t last as long as migraines.

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Fix It

A common pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the pain, though some exercise headaches are brief and may be gone before the med kicks in. Take it only if you really need it.

At the first sign of pain, down a cup or two of water. This alleviated headaches in 65 percent of sufferers within 30 minutes, according to a study in the journal Headache. If you’ve been exercising, chances are you’re at least a little dehydrated. Putting a cold washcloth on your forehead or the back of your neck for 10 to 15 minutes may bring some relief. The thinking here is that the chill may constrict dilated blood vessels.

Two key pressure points for reducing pain with acupressure:
First, the web between your forefinger and thumb. Pinch the area and apply pressure in a circular motion (switch hands when you finish).

Second, under the skull’s bottom edge on the back of the head, about halfway between the bony bumps just behind the ears and the middle of the skull; use your thumbs to apply pressure there in a circular motion. Work either area for 5 minutes, several times a day as needed.

Well, not eat, exactly. Put a pen or pencil between your teeth, but don’t bite. Leave it there for 5 minutes. This relaxes your jaw muscles, which could be tensed up.

Prevent It

Some exercise headaches are predictable, occurring either under certain conditions—hot weather and high altitude are common triggers—or with a specific activity. You can either avoid these conditions or use medication prophylactically by taking a pain reliever an hour before your activity.

Doing a proper warmup before a hard workout can help as well. And by proper I don’t mean 5 minutes on a treadmill or a set of 10 bench presses with an empty barbell. A proper warmup leaves you sweaty. A good 10-minute set of activation exercises will prepare your muscles for the work to come: Try forward and backward lunges with trunk rotation,  side lunges, cariocas (sideways running with crossover steps), pogo hops, arm windmills, and inchworms (begin in the top pushup position, then walk your feet toward your hands as your butt rises in the air; at the top, walk your hands back out until you return to the pushup position). (See Also - The Beneficial Effects Of Exercise On Brain Health)

Adapted from The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies
Photo By Thinkstock

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