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headache and exercise

Headaches developing after exercise may be caused by a number of different factors or an underlying condition.

What causes headaches after exercise?


A primary exertion headache is one which is caused solely from exercise or over exerting and has no underlying cause, the pain usually occurs on both sides, feels similar to a migraine and will last for as little as 5 mins up to 48 hours. altitude or heat often contribute to this.

A secondary exertion headache is caused by a second underlying condition such as:

  • Brain tumour
  • Heart disease
  • Reversible Cerebral vasoconstriction (narrowing of the arteries – usually due to other underlying factors)

Treatment for these headaches will require diagnosis and treatment of the underlying conditions by a medical professional, as continuing to exercise may make the condition worse.

Dehydration and Heat

Anyone knows that exercising in the heat often causes you to feel like you have to work harder as well as causing excess sweating. This can lead to dehydration. Alternatively, the brightness of the sun can contribute to triggering a headache or migraine.

Dehydration headaches occur when the body is depleted of water and electrolyte stores due to not consuming enough fluid or excess sweating.This can occur after exercise or anytime a person becomes dehydrated.

Symptoms include: thirst, fatigue, lethargy, dark urine, dry mouth, feeling irritable, dizzy or faint.

Normally for these headaches, consuming water, replacing electrolytes and resting until the symptoms subside can have an immediate effect of ridding the symptoms.

Low Blood Sugar

Exercising without eating may result in a low blood sugar level caused headache, due to the nature of which exercise burns calories. The human body converts carbohydrates (bread, pasta, grains, fruit) into glucose, which is then used as an energy supply by the body. Not only is this necessary for exercise, but the brain consumes a large constant supply of glucose for sufficient day to day function. When there is a lack of glucose stores for exercise, the muscles may take glucose away from the brain, resulting in a headache.

Symptoms may include nausea, confusion, sweating, feeling faint or dizzy, shaking, hunger

Tension Headaches or Migraine

Whilst it is less common, exercise can be a trigger for tension headaches or migraines. In order to treat this, the underlying causes of the headaches and migraines must be addressed.

How to prevent headaches after exercise?

If people are experiencing headaches after exercising with no underlying condition, they may be able to try the following to prevent them:

  • hydrating with water and rehydrating with electrolyte drinks
  • warming up and cooling down thoroughly
  • checking form and posture is correct when exercising
  • wearing adequate footwear
  • avoiding skipping meals, particularly breakfast
  • eating small, regular meals to help manage blood sugar levels
  • getting enough sleep, and following a regular sleeping pattern
  • participating in regular moderate-intense exercise
  • avoid exercising in extreme heat or exercising excessively in any condition


If you are or know someone who suffers with headaches after exercise, please contact us today on 1800 HEADACHE to book an appointment for an initial diagnosis and assessment today!

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