Can Working Out Cause a Headache?

Can working out cause a headache? We explore the possible causes and what you can do to prevent or relieve exercise-induced headaches.


Exercise can be a good way to relieve stress and anxiety, but sometimes it can bring on its own set of issues. Headaches are a common side effect of working out for some people, but the reasons for this aren’t always clear. In this article we’ll discuss what is known about exercise-induced headaches (EIH), and look at some potential causes and treatment options so that you can enjoy your workout without pesky head pain.

Causes of Exercise-Induced Headache

Exercise-induced headache is a very real phenomenon, with many people experiencing it after working out. There can be various causes of exercise-induced headache, ranging from dehydration to a surge in stress hormones. In this article, we’ll explore the causes of exercise-induced headache, as well as some strategies to prevent it.


Dehydration is a primary cause of exercise-induced headaches. When your body doesn’t have enough fluids, it can be difficult for your heart to pump blood efficiently and this can lead to reduced oxygen supply in the brain. This, in turn, can lead to a throbbing or pulsating headache. It’s important to drink plenty of water both before and during an intense workout in order to prevent dehydration. It is also important that you replenish any fluids you may have lost during exercise, so invest in some kind of sports drink that contains electrolytes to help optimize rehydration.

Caffeine Consumption

Caffeine is a popular expectation-enhancing substance used to enhance performance during exercise. Although caffeine can help you focus and signal your body to burn fat more efficiently, it can also increase exercise induced headache intensity. Caffeine acts on the central nervous system, as well as the muscles of the head and neck, causing contraction. If you consume too much caffeine before exercising or have a tendency to become addicted to it, this could cause an increased tension headache when working out. Therefore it may be better for you to limit caffeine consumption prior to physical activity\or eliminate it altogether, particularly if you suffer from frequent headaches. As long as your general caffeine intake is not excessive and the consumption is limited before exercising then it may be beneficial in improving physical performance rather than causing a headache.

Intense Exercise

Exercise-induced headaches are common and can be caused by a variety of activities. Intense exercise is one of the most frequent triggers and suffers experience head pain while they are engaging in intense physical activity. These types of headache can start in the middle of the forehead or sides of the head, may be dull or sharp, throbbing, and may radiate from one side to another.

There are a number of factors that may contribute to an exercise-induced headache: dehydration, poor nutrition, low blood sugar levels, exertion combined with high heat and humidity levels, rapid changes in weight due to pregnancy or sudden weight loss/gain, and even psychological factors such as anxiety or depression.

Although it can be tempting to push through an exercise session despite having a headache during intense activity, it is important to stop exercising and rest if you experience any type of headache at all. Drink plenty of fluids before starting your exercise routine to decrease your risk for dehydration; avoid caffeine before exercise; try gentle stretching exercises prior to vigorous activity; wear loose clothing that does not pinch or rub easily; take regular break during long workouts; incorporate strength training into your routine; ensure proper form during each exercise session; and adjust intensity gradually as you become more fit.

Exertion Migraine

A special type of headache that can occur during or after physical exertion is called an exertion migraine, sometimes referred to as an exercise-induced headache (EIH). It usually occurs in the frontal, parieto-occipital, or temporal regions and is often accompanied by neck stiffness. Exertion headaches can last from a few minutes to several hours with varying degrees of pain.

Exertion headaches appear to be related to changes in blood volume in the brain during physical activity. This can affect both blood flow and pressure within the cranium and puts additional strain on nerves located around the skull. Decreased oxygen levels due to increased respiration may also trigger headaches during exercises. Chemical changes associated with energy metabolism and lactic acid evacuation may also cause blood vessels to constrict which reduces or eliminates cerebral blood flow. Other potential culprits include extreme heat, dehydration, excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine prior to exercise, sleep deprivation, stress, and muscle tension from exertion. Diagnosis for EIH typically involves ruling out other causes such as vascular abnormalities, tumors and low/high cerebrospinal fluid pressure as these conditions may have similar symptoms as EIH but require medical intervention that goes beyond a simple headache remedy.

Prevention and Treatment

Working out can be a great way to get into shape and improve your overall health, but it can also cause a headache or migraine. If you’re feeling a headache after a workout, it’s important to know the possible causes so you can take steps to prevent and treat it. Here, we’ll explore some of the common causes of post-workout headaches, as well as what you can do to prevent and treat them.

Proper Hydration

Proper hydration is essential when engaging in any physical activity, including exercise. It is important to maintain an optimal level of hydration to prevent dehydration and other potential ill effects or health risks associated with insufficient water intake. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and exhaustion, increased risk of heat exhaustion, impaired mental functioning and headache. When working out, it is important to drink plenty of water in order to avoid becoming dehydrated. It’s advised that you consume approximately two liters (approximately one and a half quarts) of water every day while you are actively working out. You should also limit your exposure to sweat-inducing activities and other conditions that could lead to dehydration in order to reduce the risk of headaches related to overly strenuous exercise or physical exertion.

Avoid Caffeine

Consuming too much caffeine can often trigger headaches, so it’s important to limit your intake. Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea and soda contain caffeine, which is a stimulant that can make you feel energized but can also cause headaches if consumed in large amounts. Try to restrict the amount of these beverages that you consume throughout the day; a cup or two of coffee or tea each day is usually fine, but more than that could be too much. Energy drinks should also be avoided if possible as they often contain high levels of caffeine.

If you are finding that your headaches are worsening with increasing caffeine consumption, try cutting back until they stop occurring entirely. Even with reducing your intake it may take time for your body to adjust and the frequency of headaches will gradually reduce over time. If you have already stopped drinking caffeinated beverages but still find yourself suffering from headaches, consider switching to decaf alternatives for a while until the headaches pass.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Whether your routine includes running, swimming, weightlifting or another form of exercise, getting the body ready to move and gradually winding down afterwards is essential for both preventing and treating headaches. Research reveals that a warm-up period between 5 to 10 minutes at 50 to 65 percent of maximum heart rate prompts the release of serotonin – which helps you to relax.

Following your workout session with a few minutes of stretching can help you let those endorphins flow while releasing any remaining tension. To more effectively prevent a headache during or after exercise, begin with slow gentle stretching and steadily increase intensity over 3–5 minutes. Holding stretches for 10–12 seconds will not only increase flexibility, but it will also help to reduce muscle spasms that could trigger a headache later on. Additionally, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout your routine – so try drinking 12 ounces of water for every 15 minutes of exercise worked up in order to avoid dehydration as a cause of headaches post-exercise.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relief

Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and aspirin are the most commonly used methods of relieving headaches caused by working out. Ibuprofen is more effective than aspirin, because it also reduces inflammation. However, ibuprofen can cause stomach irritation and should not be taken when pregnant. Aspirin may be taken during pregnancy, but it is associated with a higher risk of bleeding. It is best to consult with a doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications if you are pregnant or have any underlying health conditions.

In addition to over-the-counter medications, some people find relief from massage therapy or relaxation techniques such as yoga or tai chi. If your headaches persist after trying these methods of relief, you may want to see a doctor for consultation and further evaluation as there could be an underlying medical condition causing your headaches.


In conclusion, it is difficult to definitively determine if a headache is caused by physical activity or something else. However, it is possible for physical activity to cause headaches in certain situations. Factors like not drinking enough water can contribute to dehydration-induced headaches while strenuous working out can bring on tension headaches. Exercising in the heat, not getting enough restorative sleep, and using improper techniques when weightlifting can all lead to the development of a variant of exercise headache.

Therefore, it is important for those who exercise regularly to pay attention to their body and observe any changes in their pain levels or intensity after exercising. If any physical symptoms arise from working out, it may be beneficial to consult a doctor or healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment options.

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