Why You Get a Headache after Running and What to Do about It

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Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Headache after RunningJogging and running are commonplace activities that many people engage in to stay fit, get some fresh air, and enjoy the scenery. Although “feeling the burn” is common after intense bouts of running, some may be surprised to find that they end up suffering a headache after running as well. While the connection between head pain and running is not immediately intuitive, understanding the underlying causes can clear up the confusion. Even better, knowing why you get a headache after running often leads to knowing how to stop the aches and prevent them in the future.

What Causes a Headache After Running?

Dehydration
Your body likes water and uses it for a number of different functions. Running pushes the muscles and makes you sweat, both of which are activities that draw on the body’s supply of free water. If your body starts to run low, then you will begin to show the symptoms of mild dehydration. The primary symptoms include tiredness, decreased urine production or extremely concentrated urine, headaches, and (obviously) excess thirst. Since the thirst sensation tends to start weakening at around age 50, people at or past this point in their lives are more likely to have inadequate fluid intake and are more vulnerable to dehydration.

Migraines
There are a staggeringly large number of potential triggers for migraines, and what triggers attacks in one person can vary wildly from the next. For some migraine sufferers, physical exertion like running can induce attacks. The pain of a migraine usually has a throbbing or pulsing quality to it and is confined to one side of the head and/or behind the eyes. Other symptoms include nausea or vomiting, visual or olfactory disturbances (auras), and increased sensitivity to light and sound.

Poor Use of Headgear
Although elastics are wonderful, not all headgear is “one size fits all.” If you run while wearing a tight cap or headband, then you may be restricting blood flow through your head and inadvertently causing yourself a headache after running.

Hypoglycemia
Glucose is one of the main sources of energy for the body, and physical exertion will also often end up impacting your blood-glucose levels. If they drop too low, you can begin to experience the signs of hypoglycemia. In addition to a headache, the possible symptoms can include sweating, hunger, irritability, tingling around the mouth, pale skin, fatigue, shakiness, heart palpitations, and, in advanced cases, confusion, blurred vision, seizures, or unconsciousness.

Underlying Health Problems
Running, like other forms of physical activity, can exacerbate a number of other health conditions, many of which have the potential to cause a headache. Brain tumors, coronary artery disease, hypertension, and more are all capable of causing a headache after running among other symptoms. While this can seem scary, it’s worth noting that a headache is an extremely vague symptom in and of itself. It’s sort of how a cough can mean anything from “some food went down the wrong pipe” to “you are about to die of bubonic plague.” Fortunately, if you actually have an underlying health condition, it is likely going to be causing other, more distinct symptoms that you can report to your doctor.

Treatment for Headaches after Running

A headache is a symptom, not a specific condition, which means treatment usually involves addressing the underlying cause. In the case of an exercise-induced headache, one of the following will usually work:

  • Take a break and let your body rest, possibly in a dark environment
  • Apply a hot or cold compress to the back of the neck
  • Hydrate yourself properly
  • Eat something to up your blood sugar (bananas are good for this)
  • Stick to a balanced diet in general
  • Loosen your headgear or go without

It is also possible to take medication to reduce the pain of a headache, but how advisable this is really depends on what the actual cause happens to be. Using medication to reduce the pain of a persistent migraine might be a good idea, for instance, but not if the problem is you just need more water.


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Michael J. Watson

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