Understanding Your Body

4 Reasons You’re Getting Exercise-Induced Headaches

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Whether you’re a marathon runner or a Zumba fanatic, headaches caused by exercise are painful and frustrating – especially when you’re just trying to do something good for yourself.

While rarer than general headaches or migraines, exercise-induced headaches still happen, and you should first see a doctor to rule out any secondary causes. Before you start to dread the end of your workout more than the start of it – or give up on exercise all together – Ashhar Ali, D.O., a neurologist at Henry Ford Health System, has some advice on why you may be getting these types of headaches and how to prevent them.

  1. You are out of shape. Getting fit is a process, and if you are overworking yourself too soon, you might find you get more headaches when working out. Your body, unless used to intense workouts, may ache, cramp or bring forth headaches as a result, Dr. Ali says.

    The fix: We all want to be fit, but start slow. It takes time to build up your fitness level and your brain may not be used to it at first.

  1. You are dehydrated“From cramps to blurry vision, being dehydrated negatively affects the body in numerous ways,” Dr. Ali says. “Headaches are another side effect of not drinking enough water.”

    The fix: Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after your workout to stay hydrated and replenish any fluids you lost.

  1. You are overheated. Do you spend your summers running outside at noon? Work out in a small, poorly ventilated area? Your headaches could be caused by your body overheating to compensate for the environment you’re in.

    The fix: If you exercise indoors, set up a few fans to keep air circulating and the temperature lower. Also, pay attention to the clothing you are wearing. Are you outside in the summertime heat in all black? Do you wear heavy sweat pants while lifting weights? What you wear can play just as important of a role in your head pain as the actual activity you partake in.

  1. You are working out at a higher altitude. Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, working out at a higher altitude where the oxygen is thinner can lead to headaches – especially if you’re exerting yourself.

    The fix: When traveling somewhere at a higher altitude, take the first few days to get yourself acclimated to the oxygen level. Another tip: Focus on exercises that are less taxing on your breathing, such as yoga or Pilates.

What Causes Headaches in the First Place?

According to Dr. Ali, there are two types of headaches: primary and secondary. Primary headaches do not have a visible cause but are common, such as migraine and tension-type headaches. Secondary headaches are the result of something else, such as an active sinus infection, ear or dental problems or, in rare cases, even a tumor.

If you suffer from exercise-induced headaches, there are options to help you. Talking with your doctor is the best place to start, as they can prescribe medications to ease your head pain.

Do you experience exercise-induced headaches, migraines or just frequent headaches? Make an appointment with a primary care doctor (or find one if you don’t have one) at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD.

Dr. Ashhar Ali is a neurologist seeing patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and Henry Ford Medical Center – Columbus in Novi.