exercise headache reasons causes

Common Reasons for Headaches When You Exercise

Headaches during and after exercises can be very painful and frustrating. Yet, many people tend not to know the exercise headaches reasons. 

You are in the middle of a workout, or you just finished one. All of a sudden, a major headache strikes you out of nowhere.

The fighter in you ignored the pain and kept powering through. However, the pain remains stubborn and relentless, leaving you concerned. 

Does this sound like you? If yes, read on to learn about why you may be experiencing these pains.

Also, we will provide essential tips that can help you prevent such from happening again. 

What are the Common Causes of Headaches During Exercises?

Exercise-induced headaches may occur due to several reasons.


They are essential things that you may not be paying attention to. Here are the common causes of these headaches:

1. You May Be Experiencing an Exertional Headache

The American Migraine Foundation generally described it as a “primary exertion headache.”

This is because it is caused only by some kind of physical activity and not any other condition or disorder. 

Physical activity can be anything from a simple jog to a strenuous workout.

Exertional headaches often develop when you do exercises at high altitudes

Experts believe that primary exertional headaches happen as a result of narrowed blood vessels.

On the other hand, some underlying conditions may trigger secondary exertion headaches. These conditions may range from a simple infection to a tumor. 

2. Dehydration Triggers Headaches During Exercises

Dehydration affects the body in multiple ways. When you do not drink enough water, you tend to develop a headache, even without exercising. 

Now, when you exercise, there are chances of you sweating. Sweating counts from loss of body fluids.

Therefore, if you do not drink enough water before or while exercising, dehydration can easily happen. 

Some people tend to wait till the middle of a workout session before drinking water. This may mean that they kicked off the session already dehydrated. 

Water and electrolytes work to keep the body hydrated.

Therefore, it is essential to replace fluids while exercising. When the brain is dehydrated, it may swell up a bit and get worsened by exertion. 

Related: How to Stop Excessive Sweating in 7 Easy Ways

3. Low Blood Sugar Level 

Low blood sugar level or hypoglycemia is another common reason and cause of headaches during exercise.


Blood sugar comes from glucose, which serves as a major source of energy for the body. 

When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them to glucose. The constant supply of glucose to the brain helps it to function more effectively. 

Workouts burn calories, meaning that the body burns through glucose during an exercise. Therefore, if you do not eat well before exercising, hypoglycemia may occur.

When the brain does not get enough glucose supply, several symptoms may arise, and headache is a major one of them.

4. Improper Form Can Trigger an Exercise Headache

Muscle tension is one of the most common occurrences while exercising.

However, muscle tension only tends to occur when you exercise with poor form. 

Research shows that neck mobility and forward head posture are significant players in tension-type headaches. 

With poor form, you may hold positions that may contribute to headaches during exercise.

For example, muscles around your neck and shoulders may tense up when you can’t do a proper deadlift. 

That way, you can trigger a headache, occurring from being out of alignment in some ways. 

5. Changes in Stress Levels

You’re not a victim of the above conditions, and you still suffer from exercise headaches. In that case, such a headache comes as a result of stress. 

We all know the harsh reality of stress.

Maybe your work takes so much strength, or you had to work multiple deadlines.

As you may already know, exercise is a great way of helping you reduce stress levels. A sharp decrease in stress levels is a major trigger for headaches.


A study describes how different reactions to stress affects our headache experiences. 

However, you should not eliminate exercise because you have a busy schedule.

Regular physical activities help to ensure a healthy lifestyle.

From weight management to exercising and a healthy diet, everything must work hand-in-hand to prevent headache occurrences. 

6. An Increase in Heart Rate Is Another Major Trigger

It may be difficult to ascertain why exercise headaches are happening exactly.

However, some solid theories help to explain the reasons based on the physiological responses we expect from those exercises. 

Let’s think of this as an example. An exercise or workout session will increase your heart rate.

An increase in heart rate, in turn, increases how much oxygen the brain and muscles will need. 

Such an occurrence will cause your blood vessels to dilate to allow for increased circulation.

This sudden shift may cause an increase in blood pressure in the brain vessels. Therefore, a short-term headache is most likely to occur. 

7. Exercising in the Sun or Confined Areas

Exercising on a sunny or hot day may also trigger headaches. In fact, exposure to the sun without exercising may cause headaches for a lot of people. 


Working out in small, ventilated areas will also result in overheating. When the body overheats, it tries to compensate for the environment it is in. 

Moreover, exercising in the heat can cause excess sweating, leading to dehydration. All of these combines to trigger exercise headaches. 

How to Prevent Headaches When You Exercise

If you have no underlying conditions and you experience headaches during or after exercising, then the following tips will come in handy:

  • Drink enough water before, during, and after exercise
  • Rehydrate with oral solutions and electrolyte drinks
  • Warm-up and cool down thoroughly before and after exercising 
  • Wear footwear that supports proper posture
  • Avoid skipping meals, especially your breakfast
  • Eat small, regular meals for proper management of blood sugar levels
  • Ensure you get enough sleep every night
  • Exercise moderately for about 30 minutes every day
  • Avoid exercising in extreme heat conditions


Having headaches during and after exercising can be a big discouraging factor. However, regular exercising is a critical component of healthy living.

There are several exercise headache reasons, of which we covered many of them. 

Most exercise-induced headaches can be easily prevented once you know the common reasons.

The simple prevention tips provided here should help alleviate these headaches. In a case when there is no improvement, then you might need to talk to a doctor.