Headache during exercise: causes, prevention to avoid this while you workout

When exercising many people experience headaches either during the workout session and/or after finishing their training routine that may involve different kinds of physical exercises at cyclical and/or acyclic level that can be established or not with external weights (dumbbells, barbells, etc.).

The headache experienced by people who perform physical exercise, especially those performed at high intensities (anaerobic), often varies its intensity and the area where it manifests.

These headaches are often felt in the front of the skull, sometimes in the occipital side, sometimes in one or both parietal sides, sometimes also on the face, and often in different areas of the skull at the same time.

The most common is that during or at the end of the training routine, this headache feels like a kind of constant beats and variable intensity towards the sides of the skull, while others can feel it also in the front almost below the eyebrows, and in very rare cases this pain is usually felt towards the back (the occipital region) of the skull.

Sometimes some people often react to this by ingesting some painkiller, and other smarter ones know that this pain is largely due to the high blood pressure that is generated by high intensity workouts and high loss of water, to which they simply opt to rehydrate very well and to rest until this overwhelming headache ceases, so this way they avoid the unnecessary and very harmful (short or long term) drugs.

Why does headache occur during physical exercise?

Well, a headache may manifest itself also during the execution of some mental exercise for a long time, as is the case of people who spend a lot of time reading not only for pleasure but also because they have to make some academic repor.

Or because they simply spend many hours in front of a computer screen, tablet or smartphone either learning at an academic or work level, or simply those people who spend time with these devices enjoying their leisure time by playing video games, watching videos, etc.

Of course we can not leave aside sports practice as a part of both physical exercise and of course also related to the part about mental exercise, since in many sports disciplines some athletes (especially those at the non-professional level and therefore do not usually have the availability of good medical control) also experience these overwhelming headaches both during and after a workout or match.

In the case of Chess, for example, where we can say skeletal muscles are not required at high level, it does require a great deal of mental dexterity energy and hydro-mineral expenditure caused mainly by the brain and nervous system, things which in some cases can make people to experience these annoying headaches while o after playing a chess match.

So to this point you will know why in the title of this article I did not write something like "Headache during physical exercise" since as I mentioned, this annoying pain can also be manifested because of mental work and therefore because of the high use that the brain and the nervous system can generate.

Reading for many hours, watching videos or playing video games for a long time will generate a certain degree of stress and other manifestations (which I will mention) that can cause that annoying pain of variable intensity around the head.

So, to continue explaining the causes of headache that can occur while working out, keeping in mind I already clarified that this pain is not only caused by the practice of physical exercise (during and/or after a Training session), even so I want to have as a reference the practice of physical exercise since headache is more common in this type of cases, because in addition also is much involved the part that has to do also with both the brain and the nervous system in general.

In addition, the causes of headache that manifest themselves by practicing physical exercises (on those of high intensity that involve external weights) are usually the same as when this pain arises as a consequence of mental exercises, although in the latter case the lapse of time for these causes to manifest are usually longer, and in most cases occur on rare occasions and perhaps with less intensity.

So, these are the causes of headache while we are practicing our work out routine of high intensity training session or after finishing our physical work session with some goal pointing to a physiological and/or aesthetic improvement:

1. A high level of hydro-mineral imbalance.

When we are concentrating thinking, reading, learning, and even more when to this is added the elevated action of the skeletal muscles, our heart begins to raise its heart rate.

When we are very concentrated for example trying to understand something that is difficult for us, although many people do not feel it, our heart rate and therefore the internal temperature of our body usually increases and so we will gradually lose more water than normally we would lose in conditions of "relaxation", because it is not as if when we were quiet our body did not lose water, because it does.

When, in addition to excessive mental work physical work is added by the skeletal muscles, the blood pressure would increase even more and therefore the expenditure of water because of a higher internal temperature would have to be higher precisely to avoid that interrnal temperature raises (thermoregulation effect) to a point that can kill us, and of course the water would also be used in a high quantity of metabolic processes with energetic goals, and also some water evaporates when we breathe.

Of course when energy expenditure increases especially when the action of the skeletal muscles is remarkable, we also tend to lose some amount of energy substrates (amount that varies according to each person, intensity of exercise, etc.) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are required for the enzymatic synthesis that allows to degrade and/or synthesize macro nutrients...

... and also we usually lose minerals like sodium, calcium, among other minerals that for example allow the muscular contractions (for example, as for the bivalent calcium ions contained in the muscle cisterns used to "load" the troponin and thus continue the contractile process of skeletal muscle tissue).

But, what really makes a headache is manifested is the fact that our blood plasma becomes very viscous precisely because it loses a lot of water, adding to this a bad or insufficient hydration carried out by the person, before, during and after the training session.

This viscosity will generate high pressure on the arterial walls, since the circulation of the blood plasma will be more difficult, thus hampering or slowing down the transport of oxygen and nutrients to all the cells of the organism.

In addition it is necessary to take into account that the arteries of the skull are much more sensitive to this type of alterations, reason why the manifestation of headache occur so often and sometimes in a sudden way.

And we must keep in mind that if we exercise "under the sun", the degree of dehydration will be higher and also because of the sun rays that "fall" directly on our head and other parts of our body, our health will be affected in a negative way.

2. High saturation of blood plasma.

When performing workouts or sessions of physical work, even more when it comes to those that are carried out at high intensity, our body often generates not only a lot of lactic acid (where much of it can be reused in oxidative energy processes) but also waste metabolic products such as free radicals, among others.

This would make the blood plasma even more viscous. So the headache can occur both by the high loss of water and by the saturation that is generated at the same time in the blood plasma.

3. Exaggerated loss of sodium and "superhydration".

When you exercise you are not only losing water because as I mentioned also you lose macro and micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals). As for sodium, for example, which is a mineral that is widely used for contractions at the skeletal muscle level and the myocardium (heart), it is usually lost in good proportions.

It must be taken into account that when the amount of sodium in the extracellular fluid is found in very low levels, water must be transferred into the cells to try to balance these levels (extra and intracellular) causing them to swell, and you must remember that brain cells are very sensitive, for this reason one of the effects of hyponatremia (low levels of sodium in the blood) is usually the headache, and in severe cases this can lead to death because of Edema.

Imagine if a superhydration occurred when for example the person thinks that to counteract this headache caused by dehydration the best way is to drink lot of water as soon as possible. Then more water would enter exaggeratedly and in less time into the cells swelling them even more and increasing the risk of producing edemas that can cause a sudden death.

4. Infections.

Of course we hace to include those infections that are usually generated in the lymph nodes located from the neck up the skull and/or in the sinuses, such as sinusitis.

In the case of the palatine tonsils, if we open the mouth and we see that they contain white matter, this is because the risk of infection is high or that they are already infected.

Homeostasis can be affected due to a high-intensity physical work and this can make our immune system weaker and these lymph nodes located in the neck (and other parts of the body) will suffer inflammation, all of which causes alterations in the blood plasma ( One of them already mentioned in the previous paragraphs), that would cause in response an intense headache, in addition to other problems or pain at the articular or muscular level.

Sinusitis is undoubtedly one of the highest risks of inducing a headache during the physical exercise session, or well actually when sinusitis (high mucus in the sinuses) is already present sometimes a headache is generated in different parts of the body before starting the workout routine.

Then exercising in this state will generate even more pressure on the skull.

So in this case, it is always best to treat it (sinusitis) first to try to eradicate it or at least to reduce it (eliminating dairy from the diet and perhaps also sources of processed foods of another type), and then you can consider performing high-intensity training routines.

What to do when the headache is generated during exercise?

If possible, stop the activity, rest for a few minutes while drinking small sips of water or an isotonic or hypotonic drink if for example the training routine is carried out at higher intensity.

When the headache ceases, you will decide whether to resume the training session or if you definitely stop and avoid making the same mistake next time, a mistake that usually lies in not having hydrated well (with water or a drink with glucose and electrolytes) before and during the practice of physical exercise.

And be aware that to perform activities of lesser intensity, taking Gatorade or other beverages of this type is not contraindicated so perhaps even with this kind of exercise, you must consider drinking these kind of beverages.

How to prevent headache during exercise?

To prevent headache from manifesting during exercise or at least to prevent it from manifesting with a high intensity (almost disabling headache), it is essential to apply the following recommendations:

- Do not exercise with the stomach neither "empty" or very full. If you exercise on an empty stomach you are in risk of getting dizzy and then headache for lack of macro and micro nutrients will occur. If you exercise with a very full stomach, you will be given the same risk as well as feel like vomiting during the training session because simply the blood that was occupied in the digestive process will stop being used to "play" on the skeletal muscles.

The reaction of the body will be to return everything to the environment that at the time hinders it to be able to perform well in the training session (your body will expel food that has not yet been digested).

- Take small but constant amounts (every 10-15 minutes) of water or isotonic drink before, during and after training.

- Exercise according to your level. It is well to demand yourself physically a little and progressively to achieve positive physiological adaptations, but also you must "listen" to your body and therefore not exaggerate.

- Avoid exercising under the sun or at least avoid doing it in hours where this star usually "hits" so hard. In the morning, before 8 am, it would be ideal to exercise under the sun and take advantage of its rays without much abuse, to help stimulate the synthesis of vitamin D.

- Wear suitable clothing. You should opt for loose clothing, soft and light fabric and not that which is too close to the body (unless it is clothing with technology for it) and very "heavy" to avoid heat stroke or another problems.