If you find you sometimes get a headache that either starts during running or hits post run, you are not alone. There are actually some very specific things that can cause that pain and, believe it or not, sometimes it is preventable!
Why Do I Get a Headache After Running?
The first question you need to ask yourself is if you are hydrated enough. A state that happens when your body has lost more liquid than you have taken in, dehydration can cause serious issues for a runner. One of the signs of dehydration is a headache.
By the time you actually feel thirst during a run it is actually too late. Not to imply you can’t reverse what has been done; rather, you can’t wait until you actually feel thirsty. Early signs of dehydration are headache, lightheadedness and fatigue. Eventually, you get to where your urine has gotten darker and you are producing less sweat than normal (or no sweat).
If you often find yourself getting headaches during or post-run, think about your hydration. Gulping one cup of coffee prior to heading out for a run isn’t good enough. Take in some water or sport drink before you run, and if you are running 60 minutes or more consider how you will hydrate during the run. This is especially important in the heat and sun.
Too Much Time in the Sun
Thinking back to the last issue of dehydration, spending too much time in the sun can also cause a headache. Protecting your body from the sun by wearing a cap with a brim, donning sunglasses and wearing sunscreen are helpful for runners.
In addition, try not to run in the hottest points of the day. Running either early morning or evening is a good way to prevent exertion during sunshine.
Pushing yourself hard can cause an exertion headache. An exertion headache often is characterized by pain on both side of the head. Sure, pushing yourself is a good thing. However, if you are going through a hard workout and your head starts to pulse, you may wish to tone it down a bit.
Exertion headaches can be particularly nasty if one of the other things has occurred, such as working out in the sun or dehydration.
Low Blood Sugar
A drop in blood sugar can also trigger headaches. Blood sugar can drop during exercise because glucose is fuel used by the body during exertion. If you fail to properly fuel before or during a run it can lead to this drop, caused hypoglycemia. Some signs that your sugar is dropping are nausea, feeling lightheaded, dizziness and disorientation. There is an adage among runners that if you wait until this point, it’s too late.
Most athletes fuel before running and take in fuel for every 45 minutes of exertion if exercising for 90 minutes or more. Having said that, every athlete is different. There are plenty of runners out there who complete long runs without any fuel at all.
Note that a sport drink can add electrolytes, add glucose and rehydrate all at once. This can remedy multiple potential causes of a running headache in one shot!
Can Working Out Trigger Migraines?
If you are prone to migraines, exercise can absolutely trigger onset. What is a migraine? It is a headache disorder that is chronic for some people. Migraines are more than a headache. People with migraines experience anything from moderate to intense head pain, nausea and other symptoms. Some people with migraines vomit and have dizziness. External factors such as light and other stimulation can cause more intense pain.
Movement often triggers migraines for people who suffer from them, in particular exercise that has exertion tied to it. Activities such as vigorous cycling, running, rowing, tennis and swimming can lead to an exercise-induced migraine.
More likely to happen in hot and humid environments, you can sometimes stave off this trigger by working out in air conditioning on particularly hot days. In addition, taking it easy if you already have any symptoms is a good idea.
Is It Okay To Run With Headaches?
If you already have a migraine, it is probably not a good idea to run or engage in vigorous activity. What if it is a regular, run of the mill headache? Unless you get debilitating headaches, it’s perfectly safe to run through it.
Just be certain you are properly fueled and hydrated, as well as avoiding running at the hottest parts of the day. Taking an over the counter painkiller and making it an easy workout day may help you survive the run.
How To Fix a Post Run Headache
Post run, you should be filled with runner’s high euphoria, but instead may find yourself with a headache. What can you do if this happens to you? The first thing is to get into a cool space, if you have been outside in the sun and/or heat. Cooling your body down may help you to get rid of the pain. Some people even find a cool or lukewarm shower helps to regulate body heat.
Next, you should rehydrate. Even if dehydration is not the cause of your head pain, hydration post-exercise is a good idea. Third, take in some fuel. Blood sugar may be the culprit but even if it is not, you should always refuel with a protein and a carb after you exercise.
Lastly, consider taking an over the counter pain reliever. While it isn’t something you want to do every day, it can certainly help.
Editor’s Note: While a running headache certainly happens to some people, if you are suddenly getting headaches every time you run as a new problem or symptom, you certainly should seek medical attention. While aches and pains can be expected as an effect of running, pain is also your body’s way of alerting you to something. We at Rockay know a lot about running, but we aren’t physicians. Nothing you read in a blog should be seen as taking the place of the medical advice of your primary physician. Run strong, run smart but most of all, run safe.