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It’s normal to ask “Why does my head hurt” if it starts to throb during or after your workout. You exercise to look and feel good, but a headache can get in the way of what you want to achieve with a workout. Understanding the hows and whys of exercise headaches is the key to controlling them.

Why Does My Head Hurt after a Workout? | The Basic Guide

In This Article:

  1. Am I Dehydrated?
  2. What Is a Headache?
  3. When Your Head Hurts after Working Out Hard
  4. What Causes Primary Exercise Headaches?
  5. What Causes Secondary Exercise Headaches?
  6. How Can You Avoid Exercise Headaches?
  7. What to Expect at the Doctor’s Office

Am I Dehydrated?

In order for your body to function properly, you must maintain certain levels of fluids and electrolytes. If you are getting headaches after working out, then the first thing you should check is your hydration.

If you are getting dehydration headaches, this means your brain is literally shrinking away from your skull which causes pain. As you drink fluids, this counteracts and the pain ceases.

When you are working out, your body is losing fluid at a faster rate, so you need to be sure you are hydrating properly based on the elevated amount of lost fluids.

What Is a Headache?

“Why does my head hurt after a workout?” is a common question, but what type of a headache is it? A headache means pain in either the neck or the head. It can be any of the following:

  • Migraines
  • Tension
  • Cluster
  • Sinus
  • Exertion

Most people experience at least one headache a year. Head pains that happen a lot can get in the way of the important things you need to do such as go to school or work, spend time with your family, and even exercise.

When Your Head Hurts after Working Out Hard

An exertion headache, sometimes called exercise headache, is the kind you can get when you workout. Some people develop them other times too when they sneeze hard or go to the bathroom. This kind of a headache happens when you strain for a long time.

Exercise headache fall into two categories: primary and secondary. Doctors classify them this way because each one has a different cause. Both men and women get exercise headaches, and they tend to happen with strenuous sports:

  • Weightlifting
  • Running
  • Bike riding
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Tennis
  • Contact sports

If you do get them when playing a sport such as soccer, hockey, or football, it’s important to make sure the headache doesn’t happen after you get hit on the head or injured in some way. That pain is not the same thing as an exertion headache and might mean you have a concussion. Repeated concussions can cause serious brain injury.

What Causes Primary Exercise Headaches?

What Causes Primary Exercise Headaches? | Why Does My Head Hurt After A Workout? | why does my head hurt all the time
Primary headaches are the more common type. You develop it after working out hard or sometimes during your exercise. They are not dangerous usually and just mean you have been straining your muscles. Although the exact cause is not known, many researchers think working those muscles hard makes them need more fuel and oxygen. The vessels that bring blood to that area open up and the pressure causes a headache.

Symptoms of a primary exercise headache include:

  • Throbbing pain
  • Pain on both sides of the head

They can happen during or after a workout and last for just a couple minutes or up to two days.

What Causes Secondary Exercise Headaches?

Secondary exercise headaches are a little more worrisome. These headaches happen when something else is wrong with you. It may mean your brain is bleeding somewhere. You may even have a tumor. For some, secondary exercise headaches suggest they have coronary artery disease. No matter what the underlying cause is, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms of a secondary exercise headache are the same as a primary headache but also include:

  • Throwing up
  • Feeling sick to your stomach
  • Double vision
  • Stiff neck, making it hard to move your head

A secondary headache can last for at least a day or maybe longer. If you suddenly get a head pain like this, called a thunderclap headache, you should see a doctor right away. A headache that is different than any other you have had is often a warning sign you need medical attention immediately.

How Can You Avoid Exercise Headaches?

Headaches happen for a lot of different reasons, so the first step is to figure out if yours is really connected to your workout. Start by keeping a headache diary or a journal that tracks your headaches and the things you are doing before you get one.

Your headache may have more to do with the food you eat when you exercise. It can happen because your blood sugar drops too, so you need to eat something different. Maybe your head hurts because of an allergy or sensitivity to a substance or smell. It may even mean you are not drinking enough water when you exercise. Headaches are a common sign of dehydration.

By keeping a headache diary, you can look for patterns that help you answer questions:

  • Do you find your head hurts after a workout if you change location or do a different kind of exercise?
  • If you eat something different before working out, do you still get a headache?
  • Does drinking more water before and during the exercise change things?
  • What is the weather like when you workout? Do you get headaches when it’s humid or really hot?
  • Does a headache only happen when you are outside or do you get them indoors too?
  • Did you warm up before you exercise?
  • Does working out for a shorter time help?

Answering these questions and finding a pattern allows you to make changes that stop the exercise headaches. If you can’t find a way to keep exercise headaches from happening, the next step is to see your doctor.

What to Expect at the Doctor’s Office

The doctor will do tests if he or she suspects you are having secondary headaches. Testing can include imaging like an MRI or CT scan. In serious cases, they may want to do a spinal tap to rule out an infection.

If it’s clear you are having primary exercise headaches, taking medication can control them. Your doctor can give you something to manage your blood pressure during a workout, for example, or an anti-inflammatory drug. Some people will take medication a few hours before a workout while others take it daily. Even an over-the-counter pain reliever can keep headaches at bay.


Prep well before a workout to reduce the chances of exercise headaches. Here’s my healthy workout meal:

Asking “Why does my head hurt after a workout?” is normal. In fact, there are several possible reasons. Regardless, they don’t have to get in the way of your workout if you take steps to understand them. A few changes in your routine may be all you need.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why does my head hurt?” after a workout? What was your experience? Share your story below. Also, take the 1-minute quiz to find out the best workout plan for you.

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Why Does My Head Hurt After A Workout? | why does my head hurt so bad