4 Reasons Why Running is Giving You a Headache

Written By: Jeremy N

1
Shares
Pinterest1FacebookTwitterGoogle+EmailSumoMe

Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise, and it offers a wide range of health benefits. Unfortunately, many runners experience headaches after running, which can be annoying and discouraging. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting a headache after running. I have had my fair share of mid-run headaches and the worst, post-run headaches. 

What causes a headache after running?

The primary cause of a headache after running is dehydration. When you exercise, your body loses fluids and electrolytes through sweat, which can lead to dehydration if not replenished. Dehydration can cause the brain to shrink slightly, leading to a decrease in blood flow and eventually a headache. Other causes of headaches after running include muscle strain, poor posture, environmental factors, and certain medications.

We break down the reasons and ways to prevent/treat headaches after running. Sometimes runners experience headaches following running. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.

Exertional headaches

Exertional headaches—also known as a primary exertional headache—is caused by physical activity, such as running. It is usually characterized by a throbbing pain that begins at the back of the head or neck and radiates forward.

Exertional headaches usually resolve within an hour after stopping physical activity.

How to treat it -

The best way to treat an exertional headache is to address the underlying cause. If dehydration is the cause, then drinking plenty of fluids before and during exercise can help.

It’s also important to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat by drinking sports drinks or taking a supplement like sodium chloride. If muscle strain is causing your headaches, then stretching out

How to prevent it -

There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting a headache after running. First, make sure that you’re properly hydrated before and during exercise. You should also replace electrolytes that are lost through sweat with sports drinks or supplements.

Additionally, warming up and cooling down properly can help prevent muscle strain-related headaches and exertional headaches. 

The 4 Main Types of Headaches After Running

1. Dehydration headaches

As mentioned above, one of the most common types of headaches after running is dehydration. This type of headache usually resolves on its own within an hour after stopping physical activity and drinking fluids to rehydrate. Often times it can lead to short-term double vision, accelerated blood pressure, and an overall feeling of confusion and pain. Similar to a migraine. 

How to treat it -

Electrolyte imbalance is a common cause of post-run headaches.  To treat a dehydration headache, drink plenty of fluids before and during exercise. It’s also important to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat by drinking sports drinks or taking a supplement like sodium chloride.

How to prevent it -

The best way to prevent a headache caused by dehydration is to make sure that you are properly hydrated before and during exercise. You should also replace electrolytes that are lost through sweat with sports drinks or supplements.

2. You've spent too much time in the sun

Headaches caused by hot weather and or sun exposure are usually characterized by a dull, throbbing pain that begins at the back of the head or neck and radiates forward. This type of headache is typically caused by overexposure to sunlight, which can cause dehydration, muscle strain, and other issues. I have had exercise-induced headaches from the weather or sun and it is absolutely debilitating. 

How to treat it -

The best way to treat a headache caused by sun exposure is to get out of the sun and into a cool, shaded area. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate. Additionally, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can help relieve the headache.

How to prevent it -

To reduce your risk of getting a headache caused by sun exposure, make sure to wear a hat and sunscreen when running outdoors. Additionally, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids before and during exercise.

3. Postural headaches

Postural headaches are caused by poor posture while running, such as slouching or hunching. This type of headache is usually characterized by a dull, pressing pain that begins at the back of the head or neck and radiates forward.

How to treat it -

To treat a postural headache, improve your posture while running. Stand up straight with your shoulders back and neck in line with your spine. Additionally, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can help relieve the headache.

How to prevent it -

To reduce your risk of getting a headache caused by poor posture, make sure to maintain good posture while running. Stand up straight with your shoulders back and neck in line with your spine. Additionally, stretching before and after running can help prevent muscle strain-related headaches.

4. Your blood sugar is low

Primary exercise headaches can be brought on by low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, which can cause headaches after running. This type of headache is usually characterized by a throbbing pain that begins at the back of the head or neck and radiates forward. 

How to treat it -

To treat a low blood sugar headache, eat high-sugar foods such as candy, fruit, or dried fruit to raise your blood sugar levels. Additionally, taking over-the-counter pain can help relieve the headache.

How to prevent it -

To reduce your risk of getting a low blood sugar headache, make sure to eat a snack before running and replenish lost calories during exercise with sugary foods such as candy, fruit, or dried fruit. Additionally, drinking plenty of fluids before and during exercise can help keep your blood sugar levels stable. Too much sugar can do a number on your blood vessels. 

Other Environmental factors

Primary exercise headaches caused by environmental factors such as high altitudes or pollution are usually characterized by a dull, throbbing pain that begins at the back of the head or neck and radiates forward.

How to treat it -

To treat a headache caused by environmental factors, get out of the environment that is causing the headache and into a cooler, less polluted area. Additionally, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can help relieve the headache.

How to prevent it -

To reduce your risk of getting a headache caused by environmental factors, try to avoid running in areas with high altitudes or air pollution. Additionally, make sure to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen when running in hot or sunny environments.

Stress can also be an underlying cause of headaches after running. To reduce stress-related headaches, make sure to get enough sleep before exercise and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing. Additionally, stretching before and after running can help reduce muscle tension.

For more information on how to prevent and treat headaches after running, consult with a doctor or physical therapist. They will be able to provide guidance on the best approach for treating your symptoms.

It is important to stay mindful of any changes in your body while running and to pay attention to any signs of headache. If you experience a headache that does not go away with rest and fluids, it is important to consult a doctor or physical therapist for further evaluation. It may be necessary to adjust your running route or training program if the headaches persist.

Additionally, staying mindful of proper nutrition and hydration can help reduce the risk of headaches after running. By following these tips and consulting with a doctor or physical therapist, you can reduce your risk of headaches after running.

By properly managing stress levels and staying mindful of proper hydration and nutrition, runners can enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle without suffering from headaches. Additionally, if any signs of headache appear during exercise, it is best to stop and rest in a cool, shaded area. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can also help relieve the headache.

Stretching before and after exercise can help reduce muscle tension and improve overall performance. And remember, if headaches persist despite home remedies, it is important to consult with a doctor or physical therapist for further evaluation.

When to see a doctor

If you experience a headache after running that does not go away with rest and fluids, it is important to consult a doctor or physical therapist. They will be able to identify the underlying cause of the headache and provide guidance on how to treat it. Additionally, they can help adjust your running route or training program if necessary.

Seeing a doctor may also prevent further complications, such as dehydration or heat exhaustion. It is important to take any signs of headaches seriously and to take the necessary steps to prevent them. By following these tips and consulting with a doctor or physical therapist, you can reduce your risk of headaches after running.

Once you figure out what is a trigger for headaches, you have the advantage of completely stopping them. Sometimes they run in your family based on genetics or other family history. 

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 Jeremy. 

I have run over 250 races including the California International Marathon, Clarksburg Country Run, and various other 5K & 10K races throughout the United States. I am a former Athletics department employee at University of the Pacific and Shoe Consultant with Dicks Sporting Goods

Become a Train For a 5K Insider