What are exertional headaches?

When you exercise, or exert yourself physically, the muscles of the head, neck, and scalp need more blood to circulate. This causes the blood vessels to swell, which can lead to a condition called exertional headaches.

Headaches that most frequently occur from exercise or overexertion include jogger's headache and orgasmic headache (sex headache). While these may occur on their own, they are most common in patients who have an inherited susceptibility to migraine (one or both parents have migraines).

It has been found that most exertional headaches are benign (not serious) and can be treated successfully with the usual headache therapy. Some headaches are particularly responsive to indomethacin, an anti-inflammatory drug. However, if you have exertional headaches, you should see the doctor so that he or she can rule out other medical causes.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2014.


  • National Headache Foundation. Exertional Headaches Accessed 3/12/2016.
  • Goadsby P.J., Raskin N.H. (2012). Chapter 14. Headache. In D.L. Longo, A.S. Fauci, D.L. Kasper, S.L. Hauser, J.L. Jameson, J. Loscalzo (Eds), Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18e. Retrieved 3/12/2016.

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