How to Treat Headaches After Running (& Prevent Them)

Sometimes runners experience headaches and head pain following running. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.

This can happen whether an individual does a long distance run or jogs for as little as five minutes.

This article will break down what causes the headaches after running and how to prevent it. 

How to Treat Headaches After Running (& Prevent Them)

The term that most doctors will refer to when you describe a headache from running is something called exertional headaches.

What Is an Exertional Headache?

The National Headache Foundation describes an exertional headache as typically benign but often severe headaches caused by mild physical activity such as a jog, weightlifting, and even intercourse. 

Most professionals recommend that someone who gets these headaches frequently should see a doctor to make sure there aren’t any underlying conditions that could make the pain worse.

The American Migraine Foundation additionally notes that these headaches should be rare and can frequently indicate some hidden problem like blood pressure issues.

For runners, it’s especially important to have them checked since too much exercise can make them worse.

Doctors aren’t actually sure what specifically causes exertional headaches. According to Healthline, the majority of professionals think the pain is caused by the narrowing of blood vessels in the head. 

This could be because the runner does not have the best circulation.

Other probable causes of running headaches include dehydration, hunger, overheating, or suffering from allergies.

How to Get Rid of an Exertional Headache?

 A lot of exertional headaches have symptoms similar to migraines.

Some of these include throbbing, pain that is on both sides of the head, and always happening after exercise.

People who experience symptoms such as vomiting or bleeding after running need to seek help immediately since it can be caused by heart problems or another condition.


The most crucial way to stop an exertional headache is to stop doing the exercise which causes it.

The runner needs to stop moving and sit down to try to decrease their heart rate and blood pressure. 

Depending on how intense the pain is, the runner might need to lay down..

Individuals suffering from this kind of headache should wait one week before trying to exercise again.

The longer the person keeps running after the headache starts, the longer the headache will last.

Individuals with a lot of pain can try to take a painkiller and should see a doctor.

Finally, people who currently have a headache should try stretching to improve blood flow

Many of the stretches which help running headaches are the same ones used by professionals and yogis to improve circulation. So, what are they?

  • Low Lunge: A low lunge is similar to a regular one. The person should step forward and lower their other leg until it hovers just above the floor. The arms should be raised above one’s head and held straight. This position should be held for 10-20 seconds.
  • Downward Dog: This is perhaps the most well-known yoga pose that helps improve circulation and blood flow. The person suffering from a headache should have their hands and feet on the floor and butt in the air. The idea is to keep one’s arms and legs straight to pull the muscles. If someone feels pain, they are going too far.
  • Neck Lifts: These are regular neck exercises someone might be seen doing if they spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. The person stretches their neck as far as possible up, down, left, and right.

This video contains some important additional information for individuals who would like to hear the experiences of an athlete who suffers from exertion headaches.

How to Prevent Running Headaches?

At the moment, scientists are unsure of what actually causes an exertional headache. Instead, people can try to trace whether or not their headache comes from another source, such as the four mentioned earlier.

These are: dehydration, hunger, overheating, or suffering from allergies.


This is probably one of the more common causes as well as causes of other health problems such as muscle cramps, which is another common problem that runners experience.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than it takes in. This can happen due to high level of physical exertion during a run (sweating) or simply because you are not drinking enough water before and after your runs.

The main way to treat dehydration is to drink more plain water before, during, and after running

Some people might be tempted to drink something else like coffee, soda, tea, or even flavored water, but plain is best.

Every runner sweats a different amount and therefore needs to consume a personalized amount of water while on the move.

Most resources suggest that an individual needs to drink roughly 4-6 oz. every 20 minutes. 

This means at least 12-18 oz. in an hour. Drinking enough can help prevent future dehydration headaches.

4-6 oz every 20 min

Hunger headaches require more food before running. Most athletes don’t like to eat before running, but it’s important to consume a substantial meal roughly 2-3 hours before exercise so the individual has enough energy to move but doesn’t get sick.

People who get hunger headaches should therefore try to eat something protein-heavy – chicken, nuts, some vegetables – before running.

We put together a great article detailing food choices and which ones you should consume, click the image below to read all about it. 

There are several different items you can eat before a 5K to help with your training

Runners typically have two ways to avoid overheating: drinking more fluids and avoiding exercise on hot days. People who run outdoors should try to limit their exercise to the early morning and late evening.

No individual should try exercising between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. Individuals should additionally obey the water rules established above.

Allergies are the final problem.

A good portion of humans have some form of allergies that can cause symptoms like congestion, sinus pressure, itchy skin, itchy eyes, and headaches from the first two issues. 

The best way to stop this kind of pain is to take an antihistamine before running or avoid exercising in locations where there are allergy triggers.

Some allergy triggers include things like weeds, dandelions, animal dander, grass, and even crops and food. The most common triggers are weeds and grass since humans encounter these the most.

People who have bad reactions and congestion should try running indoors to prevent headaches.


Some resources say that a running headache can be caused by an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are something that provides the body with the minor electrical charge needed to complete vital functions. Pain could come from simply not getting the proper nutrition and electrolytes.

There are a couple of ways to fix this problem.

Runners could drink energy drinks that are packed with the nutrients humans and athletes need. A person can also eat healthier foods and more fruits and vegetables to make sure they receive all of the nutrition they need.


No one enjoys having headaches, especially when trying to become healthier. They can deter even the most dedicated athlete and make running unpleasant, so it’s important to find treatment as soon as possible.

If the stretches, exercise, diet changes, and over the counter medicine don’t help, runners who experience constant headaches should see a doctor immediately for assistance.

Hi, Jeremy Here, 

I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journeyAbout Me.