Exertion headaches, often called exercise headaches, involve pain during or after physical activity. They last a few minutes to two days. Although the headaches usually have no underlying cause, you should talk to a healthcare provider to make sure. Treatment is similar to other headaches, and certain strategies may help you prevent them.
An exertion headache (also known as exercise headaches) involves pain during or immediately after physical activity. It comes on quickly and goes away in a few minutes or hours, but can last as long as a couple of days. But there’s usually no underlying disease or disorder.
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Examples of activities that might trigger an exertion headache include:
Because exercise is a common culprit, exertion headaches are often called exercise headaches or weightlifter’s headaches.
When you exert yourself, your body needs more blood and oxygen. Scientists believe an exertional headache occurs when an activity causes veins and arteries to expand to allow more blood flow. That expansion and increased blood pressure create pressure in the skull, which causes the pain.
Symptoms of an exercise-induced headache often include:
Sometimes the headaches feel like migraines and involve:
Most exercise headaches last five minutes to 48 hours and happen for a period of three to six months.
Anyone who has severe or frequent headaches should seek medical attention. Most exertional headaches aren’t caused by an underlying disease or disorder. But a healthcare provider may order some tests to rule out possible causes:
If tests don’t find an underlying cause, the healthcare provider can diagnose exertion headaches if you have had at least two headaches that:
Exertional headaches usually can be treated the same way as regular headaches. Some medications that may help include:
The best way to prevent exercise-induced headaches is to avoid the activity that triggers them.
But if that’s not realistic, you can try different strategies to lower the chances. For example:
Some studies suggest that certain supplements can help prevent exertional headaches, such as:
Headaches after exercise don’t last long. Most are gone within a few minutes or hours, and they generally don’t last longer than 48 hours.
Although the episodes repeat, they usually resolve on their own in three to six months.
Although exertional headaches are generally not a sign of a problem, you should talk to a healthcare provider if:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Exertion headaches involve pain during or immediately after physical activity. They come on quickly and go away in a few minutes or hours, perhaps as long as a couple of days. There’s usually no underlying disease or disorder, but you should talk to a healthcare provider to rule out any problems. Medications and other strategies can help you prevent and treat headaches, which usually stop happening after a few months.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/12/2021.
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