Exercise-induced headaches are a common problem. Here’s what to do with them.
A headache after a long run does not necessarily mean that it is an exertional headache, so let’s first look at the other possible reasons your head beats after the run.
You are dehydrated
The medical literature tells us that headaches are a common symptom of dehydration. Dehydration headaches are even more common in hot weather when you lose more fluid through sweating.
You’re in bad shape
Running in poor shape can cause tension in the neck and shoulders, quickly leading to tension headaches. These tensions are every day when running long. Stress can also cause tension headaches, so emotional stress can also play a role if you have gone for a run after a challenging day.
It is sweltering and sunny
Not only can the heat cause dehydration headaches, but exercising in direct sunlight can also trigger headaches or migraines.
Your blood sugar has dropped
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a cause of headaches and can be a problem if you run in the morning before eating anything. Essentially, headaches are the brain’s way of telling you it needs glucose. When running long distances, your glycogen stores can run out if you are not careful to replenish electrolytes while running.
You have migraines
For many people, easy exercise can help relieve the symptoms of migraines, but according to the Migraine Trust, it can trigger migraines in some people. If you suffer from migraines, it is essential to hydrate well, eat something before you run, and introduce new exercise programs slowly.
Doctors are not sure exactly what causes immediate exertion headaches, but many believe it may be narrowing your blood vessels when you exercise. A secondary exertion headache is due to an underlying condition, ranging from anything as simple as sinusitis to something more serious.
How to prevent exercise-induced headaches
You can treat most post-race headaches with paracetamol or a warm compress on the head. The best thing is to avoid them. Follow these tips to keep headaches to a minimum:
- Stay hydrated by drinking water and eating fruits and vegetables with high water content throughout the day. If you first run in the morning, take a glass of water before going out the door.
- Wear sunglasses and caps to protect your head and eyes.
- Eat food rich in carbohydrates an hour or two before the run. If you first run in the morning, try to eat something small, like half a banana or half a granola bar, before you go.
- Take time to stretch slightly tight muscles, especially in the neck and shoulders.
- Suppose you think your form is contributing to headaches. In that case, you should consider seeking out a physiotherapist who specializes in running to help you strengthen areas of weakness that may be contributing to the problem.
- Do a proper warm-up and cool down before and after the runs.
When to talk to your GP
Suppose you start experiencing headaches after running when you usually do not have problems. In that case, you may want to make an appointment with your doctor, especially if you have other symptoms along with headaches, such as tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, vomiting, vision problems, or stiffness.