Headaches and Exercise: Causes and Treatments

May 2, 2012

If you are one of the many who has committed themselves to getting fit and healthy, the last thing you may want to deal with is exercise-related pain, especially headaches. When you have a headache, it feels like you cannot do much of anything, let alone continue to workout. To make sure that you are able to keep moving, you should learn ways to treat these exercise-related headaches that may be preventing you from achieving your fitness goals.

These types of headaches usually occur during specific kinds of exercise, such as jogging and weight training and tend not to occur during lower intensity routines. In order to avoid this if you are prone to such headaches, it is important to first understand what exactly causes your specific type of headache. Exercise-related headaches can be the result of dehydration, low blood sugar, overexertion or even incorrect breathing. Figuring out what your culprit may be is the first step to recovering from this source of pain.


Lack of hydration can be a common reason why people may experience headaches while working out. People who are either over-training or simply forgetting to drink enough water should be mindful of this and take frequent sips of water or a sports drink throughout their routine. If you tend to neglect this important step, you may want to consider setting benchmarks for sipping water, such as drinking every 5-10 minutes if you are running or in between sets if lifting weights.

Low Blood Sugar

Like water, it is just as important to make sure that you have enough energy stored through food sources, especially if you happen to be hypoglycemic. It is a smart idea to have a snack before a workout if you know that you have low blood sugar or if you are diabetic. It doesn’t take much. An apple or another natural source of sugar and carbohydrate should do the trick.


People who tend to do strenuous workouts may be more likely to get exercise-related headaches. Beginners, especially, should be careful and make sure that they are not overworking themselves. Added stress on the body can lead to muscular fatigue, which can lead to added pressure on the skull, especially if the strain is around the neck and upper body. The best bet is to take it easy and move into more vigorous routines at a moderate pace.


Believe it or not, proper technique is just as integral to avoiding exercise-related headaches as the previously mentioned categories. The position of your head is important, especially while performing activities like jogging. Your head should be in line with the rest of your spine and neutral, meaning that you are not bending your neck up or down, but looking straight ahead. Straining your neck can lead to a tension headache as you are putting more stress on your muscles that surround your skull.

Another aspect of technique is breathing properly. Many beginners breath improperly, especially while weight training. The proper way to do so is by breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Some people tend to hold their breath throughout the reps, which increased pressure, thus inducing headaches.


Make your routine regular: Headaches are the result of blood vessel inflammation and ironically, regular cardio exercise can alleviate them. Low impact cardio can release endorphins, which act as natural painkillers in the body. People who conduct vigorous workouts on a regular basis also tend to have related headaches less often. This suggests that if you are going to do strenuous workouts, you might as well make it your regular routine, rather than doing them every once in awhile.


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a shot of caffeine: Another hidden gem can be caffeine. If caffeine is not one of your headache triggers, than it might actually help constrict your blood vessels, avoiding headaches. Just remember that caffeine is a natural diuretic and dehydrator, so if you consume a little caffeine before your workout, make sure to drink even more water. There are also a number of medications that will have the same effect of blood vessel constriction, however, this may be an easier, more natural alternative.

Add a supplement: Magnesium is also a nutrient that many are lacking and has been associated with migraines, so adding a supplement may also be worthwhile.

Alter your workout: In terms of the actual types of exercise, ending your workout related headaches may come down to altering your routine. It may be as simple as beginning and ending slowly (warm-up + cool-down) or you may need to switch to a lower impact routine all together.

Because many of the causes to exercise-related headaches tend to be direct and reversible, it is a good idea to go back and evaluate the unique reason you experience them. Once you find the correct pathway, simply make efforts to prevent the cause. Invest in some of these tips and advice and save yourself a headache.


  • John Ernest May 5, 2012 at 8:48 am

    Exposing yourself to too much stress and pressure during exercise commonly causes this. That is why expert body builders and work out coaches always say that you have to slowly but surely improve your work-out routine especially if you are only a beginner. Thank you for posting!

    • Elena Anne May 7, 2012 at 8:37 am

      I agree John. Very good point. That’s what I advised people in the gym I used to work. Sometimes they wanted to start their weight lifting routine without warming up. The blood pressure goes up and headaches come!

  • Ajith Simon May 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Hi Elena!

    Thanks for the interesting post..I like your treatement tips..thanks for sharing your knowledge..:D


  • Raaj Trambadia May 11, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Hey Elena! Informative post out here! I wanted to know that even if I play a game of soccer (40 Mins continuously), why do I get a bad headache? I mean, is it because I don’t work out regularly and then play suddenly, or is it the sun which is causing this? (because I normally play around 12 Noon)


    • Elena Anne June 5, 2012 at 7:19 am

      Hello Raaj,
      All the causes you mentioned could be possible. I think it is because you start suddenly. Try to warm up before start playing soccer. Sun could cause your headaches to. Wear a cup while you playing and and drink a few sips of water frequently. Thank you for sharing :)

  • Joseph Mills May 12, 2012 at 4:27 am

    Some exercise won’t fit to the other that’s why it is advisable to consult a doctor first before doing nay exercise especially if you know that you have some problem in your body.

    • Elena Anne June 5, 2012 at 7:24 am

      Of course Joseph, asking advice by a physician is very important and sometimes some medical tests need to be done. Nice point, thank you.

  • Rasheed May 21, 2012 at 3:51 am

    Hey Elena,

    I used to have severe migraines a few times per week. It may have been an addiction to caffeine (no longer had headaches when I drank caffeine) but after I weaned myself off of caffeine and increased my water intake, I no longer got headaches as often.

    I wish I came across this information earlier though! I’ll be sure to share it :)



  • deanne sotero May 25, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I’m implementing different exercises these days just to lose weight and you’re definitely right. I’m having some headaches after a rigorous training. I will surely implement the treatments you’ve posted and I hope it works. Thanks a lot.

    • Elena Anne June 5, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Warm up before your training and cool down after, can significantly reduce the headaches. Thanks for sharing Deanne

  • Felicia @ Unibet Leaderboard May 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Elena,
    I am not hypoglycemic, but I tend to have low blood sugar particularly when I get stressed. The problem is, when I’m stressed, I tend to work out more.

    • Elena Anne June 5, 2012 at 8:57 am

      It’s good for you Felicia working out while you are stressed. Exercise reduce cortisol and makes you feel more relaxed. If you have low blood sugar and you get dizzy during working out, try to eat something sweet in a small amount before you start.

  • Elena Anne May 7, 2012 at 8:27 am

    Sometimes the answer to our problem is very simple. Like you said, it is possible that not drinking much water makes you having headaches!

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