Exercise Headache – Location, Types and Treatment

Exercise Headache triggered by some sort of physical activity, ranging from a swift walk to strenuous exercise, person to person. Exercise Headache is divided further into two categories:

  1. Primary Exercise Headache
  2. Secondary Exercise Headache
  3. When to see a doctor?

1-Primary Exercise Headache

This is primarily caused due to some sort of physical activity and has little to no harmful effects. This can also be easily treated and prevented using medication.

Location of pain:

Exercise Headache is typically felt on both sides of the head but is also felt on one side of Head and top of head.

Duration of Pain:

It lasts only a few minutes to a couple of days.


The muscles of your head, neck, and scalp require more blood to meet its oxygen requirements while you are working out. This leads to vasodilation in the blood vessels of the head leading towards a Headache.


Primary Headache is usually benign and mostly respond to over the counter analgesics. Indomethacin is the most commonly prescribed drug for an Exercise Headache. This takes usually 30 mins to an hour before exercise.

exercise headache

2-Secondary Exercise Headache

This headache has an underlying cause and unlike Primary Exercise Headache, this usually lasts a couple of days and might as well persists for days or weeks at a stretch.

Location of pain:

It is usually felt on both sides of the head but is also felt on one side of Head.


  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Lethargy.
  • Congestion.
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Blurred vision.


There can be several causes for an episode.

a) Dehydration:

 Headache is the first symptom that appears due to dehydration. During exercise, you sweat a lot, thus lose more fluid than you’re taking.


Other symptoms involved are:

  • Decrease urine output.
  • Dry skin.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Seizures.


  • Staying hydrated during the exercise.
  • Taking plenty of fluid before and after the workout.
  • Energy drinks contain high amounts of electrolytes and can help overcome dehydration fairly quickly.

b) Heatstroke

Headache can develop if you’ve been working out in the sun for too long. You can avoid an Exercise Headache in the case by using a hat or cap to protect your face and head against the direct sun. Also, you can use a spray bottle to spray water on your face at regular intervals during exercise.

c) Hypoglycemia

When you work out for too long, your energy reserves might start depleting as you consume all the glucose and your blood sugar levels might drop too low.


  • Feeling of extreme hunger.
  • Tremors.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Loss of concentration.
  • Loss of coordination.


  • Take a good source of glucose like juice or any other drink immediately.
  • Take a healthy meal an hour or two before exercising.

d) Not in shape

When your workout involves head and neck muscles and you’re working out after a very long time and you are not in shape. Your muscles in head and neck might tense up and develop a headache.



  • Take over the counter analgesics to relieve the pain.
  • A muscle relaxant can also help release the tension in the muscles.

e) High Altitude

At high altitudes, the atmospheric pressure is low and your oxygen demand increases. If you do exercise at any such place, you have a high chance of developing a headache as oxygen supply to the brain is decreased during exertion, resulting in a Headache.


  • Discontinue the exercise.
  • Inhale deeply and take some rest.
  • The headache may subside after this, if it doesn’t you can always take an over the counter analgesic.

Some other causes that might be responsible for an Exercise Headache are as follows:

f) Subarachnoid Hemorrhage.

g) Tumor in the brain.

h) Obstruction of CSF.

i) Sinusitis.

j) Arteritis.

All these conditions might be present at all times in the individual but any form of exertion can aggravate the condition and lead to a Headache.

 3-When to see a doctor?

If you develop a Headache due to exertion or while working out and it doesn’t go away with an anti inflammatory drug, You should see a physician as this might indicate towards an underlying condition. Also Primary Exercise Headache lasts only a couple of days while Secondary Headache can prolong as per the underlying cause and might need immediate medical attention in cases such as subarachnoid hemorrhage, CSF obstruction and Tumors.


Why do I get a headache every time I exercise?

The blood vessels to your skull and brain dilate when you exercise, to provide more oxygen to your brain. This results in a Headache.

I developed a Headache after exercise, it won’t go away even after 4 days. What should I do?

If your headache doesn’t go away after 2 days of onset, you should consult a doctor. This can be indicative of a serious underlying illness.

When should I be worried about an Exercise Headache?

If you get a headache every time you exercise and it won’t go even after a couple of days despite taking analgesics. In this case, you should consult a doctor.

What can be the possible causes of a Secondary Exercise Headache?

There can be several underlying conditions that may lead to an Exercise Headache:
High Altitude
Not in form/shape
Subarachnoid Hemorrhage
Tumor in the brain
Obstruction of CSF