Can Your Workout Cause a Migraine?

Can working out cause a migraine? It’s possible, but there are some things you can do to help prevent it.


Migraines and exercise may seem like an unlikely pair, but intense or prolonged physical activity can actually trigger migraine headaches in some people. This is because exercise increases certain hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine in the body, which can lead to changes in your blood vessels that can set off a migraine. It is also possible for emotional stressors, dehydration or changes in sleep patterns due to exercising to cause migraines.

If you suffer from migraines, it’s important to understand how physical activity might be affecting you and how to avoid triggers. Read on for some tips on what types of workouts are best for avoiding headaches, ways to ensure proper hydration and nutrition while exercising, as well as some tips on managing your emotions while engaging in physical activity.

Causes of Exercise-Induced Migraines

Exercise-induced migraines are headaches caused by physical activity. While anyone can experience exercise-induced migraines, they often affect people who participate in more intense and longer training sessions. Research shows that certain types of exercise can trigger the onset of a migraine. In this article, we will go over some of the main causes of exercise-induced migraines, covering everything from diet and hydration to inadequate warmups and overexertion.


Dehydration is one of the most common causes of exercise-induced migraines. You should make sure to stay properly hydrated while exercising, as even mild dehydration can make you more susceptible to headaches and migraines. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workout session. It’s also essential to replenish electrolytes that are lost through sweat such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to magnesium and calcium deficiency which can contribute to headache pain. Low blood sugar levels from undereating or prolonged fasting can also cause exercise-induced migraine episodes.


Allergens are potential triggers for exercise-induced migraines, though precise allergen-caused migraine triggers may vary from person to person. Common triggers include dust mites, animal dander, pollen or mold spores. Exercise outdoors can also increase your exposure to allergens, so pay attention to the timing of your workout. Pollen counts and other allergies are typically higher in the morning, so you may want to adjust the timing of your outdoor workouts accordingly. If you experience symptoms like itchy eyes or a runny nose during exercise, you may need to limit outdoor activity until you can address the allergen trigger. Taking an antihistamine prior to going outside can also help reduce symptoms and prevent onset of a migraine.

Hormone Imbalances

Hormone imbalances can cause exercise-induced migraines. If hormone levels become too low or too high, this can put the body in a state of dysfunction leading to migraine headaches. Low levels of the hormones testosterone and DHEA, which are common in those with chronic stress and aging, may lead to disrupted neurotransmitters resulting in migraines.

High levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine can also play a role in causing exercise-induced migraines as these hormones flood the body during exercise. In some cases, systemic inflammation from lactic acid buildup from strenuous workouts may trigger episodes of migraine pain.

In addition to hormone imbalances, dehydration is one of the most common causes of exercise-induced migraine headaches. When the body doesn’t get enough fluids before or during physical activity, it will trigger headaches. This is why it’s so important to stay hydrated when engaging in strenuous physical activity so you don’t experience debilitating symptoms if a migraine occurs during your routine.


Stress is one of the most likely causes of exercise-induced migraines. Physical exertion, particularly exercises like running, weight lifting, and cycling, can cause a surge in endorphins that can trigger a migraine headache. This is especially true in individuals who are prone to migraines. Aside from physical stress, psychological stress can also cause exercise-related headaches. Working out at an intense level when you are feeling mentally or emotionally exhausted can be a contributing factor for some people. Taking frequent breaks and listening to your body’s cues can help prevent migraine headaches associated with exercising under stress.

Symptoms of Exercise-Induced Migraines

Exercise-induced migraines are a type of headache triggered by physical exertion, and they can be extremely uncomfortable. Symptoms of exercise-induced migraines include throbbing head pain, nausea and vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, and tiredness. In addition, some people experience visual disturbances, such as seeing flashes of light or blind spots. These symptoms can be very debilitating and should be taken seriously. Let’s look at some of the other symptoms of exercise-induced migraines in more detail.


Headaches are often one of the first signs that you’re experiencing an exercise-induced migraine and can vary in both intensity and duration. These headaches may occur before, during, or after physical exercise and can feel like a tension-type headache or a dull ache. Some people may also experience throbbing pain on just one side of the head. This can cause discomfort during your workouts and make it difficult to focus on your performance.

Other symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, photophobia (light sensitivity), visual changes (such as seeing flashes of light), and an aura (a group of neurological symptoms) can also occur alongside the headache. Some individuals find that these accompanying symptoms help them distinguish between a regular headache and an exercise-induced migraine.


It’s easy to underestimate how overwhelming the symptoms of exercise-induced migraines can be. Unfortunately, one of these signs is nausea. Generally, this feeling starts to come on around 15-30 minutes after exercising and can last for a few hours or even until the next day. Other symptoms may include stomach pain, changed appetite, and vomiting. It’s also typical for people to experience a lightheadedness or dizziness because of the migraine. To manage this symptom and others associated with it, people may need to adjust their diet, reduce their exercise intensity and avoid certain triggers in order to reduce the frequency of migraines. Additionally, staying hydrated during and after physical activities can help your body recover faster — preventing developing any more symptoms or causing further nausea onset.

Visual Disturbances

People prone to exercise-induced migraines often experience visual disturbances just before or during the onset of a migraine. These disturbances can be auras, entoptic phenomena, or photophobia (light sensitivity). Auras present as sensations such as smell, taste, and light flashes or objects that move around in vision. Photophobia is an aversion to light and can cause squinting and shielding the eyes. Entoptic phenomena include straight lines that ripple up and down, bright dots of living color, flashes of light emanating from the center of vision, stars, bright cobwebs, a band of sparkling snow across your fields of vision or glowing stars known as “teichopsia”.


Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms associated with Exercise-Induced Migraines (EIM). This exhausted feeling can range from a mild sense of tiredness to extreme fatigue that makes it difficult for an individual to complete their daily activities. Often, these feelings will remain even after a person has had ample rest or sleep. Additionally, some may experience difficulty concentrating and declining mobility due to exhaustion. To determine if fatigue is connected to exercise-induced migraines, it is beneficial to track how often this feeling occurs after physical activity or exercise.

Prevention of Exercise-Induced Migraines

Working out or exercising can provide the body with many positive benefits, but it can also be a trigger for exercise-induced migraines in those who are prone to them. Migraine headaches can be debilitating, and avoiding them is important in order to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Read on to learn more about the prevention and management of exercise-induced migraines.

Hydrate Properly

Proper hydration is essential to keeping your body functioning at its best during exercise. If you’re not drinking enough fluids, you may be at risk of experiencing an exercise-induced migraine. To prevent this, make sure to drink a minimum of two 8-ounce glasses of water before, during, and after your workout. During exercise, especially in hot and humid conditions, it’s important to rehydrate with a sports drink or water that contains electrolytes for replenishment. Consuming small amounts of fluids throughout the day can also help keep you from becoming too dehydrated when you work out. Additionally, if you already have an active lifestyle or plan on increasing your physical activity level over time it’s important to speak to your doctor about monitoring hydration levels closely for changes in medications or routine.

Avoid Allergens

During exercise, it is important to avoid any potential triggers of an exercise-induced migraine. This is especially important for those that are allergic or sensitive to certain environments and/or substances. Allergens such as pollen, dust, mold, pet fur, and perfume can cause an attack in susceptible people. Keeping track of environmental factors and maintaining good indoor air quality can often help keep exacerbations at bay. Additionally, those with known food allergies should pay special attention to the ingredients in sports drinks or energy bars consumed before or during a workout. Taking over the counter antihistamines prior to exercising may be helpful for some persons prone to environmental allergies. If any type of allergen is noted as associated with headaches or migraines, efforts should be made to minimize contact with it during physical activity or exercise.

Monitor Hormone Levels

Maintaining hormonal balance is key for preventing exercise-induced migraines. Hormones that can play a role in migraines include estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, vasopressin, and endorphins. To test your hormone levels, you may need to visit your primary care doctor or an endocrinologist who specializes in hormones and metabolism. Knowing which hormones may be causing the issue will give you a better idea of how to control it through diet, exercise, and/or medication. For instance, some people report that limiting their intake of caffeine or alcohol helps mitigate the frequency of their migraines. Additionally, if cortisol or testosterone are out of balance due to over-exercising or being under chronic stress, then making lifestyle changes such as reducing the intensity and duration of your workouts can help reduce migraine symptoms.

Manage Stress

Exercise can be a beneficial way to reduce stress, tension, and anxiety. However, if not managed appropriately it can create added physical and emotional stress for some individuals that can cause an exercise-induced migraine. Certain exercises involving cardiovascular activity, especially running and jogging, are especially known to trigger a headache or migraine. If you experience exercise-induced migraines, it is important to find the right balance in your workout routine while also minimizing any potential stress factors associated with it.

To prevent exercise-induced migraines, manage your stress levels through proper pacing of physical activities and relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Set realistic goals for yourself regarding frequency or time spent exercising as well as listening to your body by taking breaks when needed. Additionally, be aware of environmental factors that potentially cause headaches e.g., strenuous temperatures or particular exercises such as those involving intense spinning motions which could increase the risk of experiencing a migraine episode at any moment during the workout session


In conclusion, several factors can contribute to migraines triggered by workouts, such as dehydration, lack of sleep, or inflammatory response. Paying attention to your body and understanding the warning signs can help you manage the condition. Also, consider keeping a workout journal to track your symptoms and understand if any physical activity is a trigger for your migraines.

It is essential to remember that exercise is generally beneficial for migraineurs as it increases mood and reduces stress levels. Therefore, if you are a frequent migraine sufferer, it is important to talk with your healthcare professional about safe exercises you can do regularly. They will help you devise an exercise program that suits your needs while reducing the risk of developing migraines in the future.

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