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This is the first installment of a new series called “Ask DailyBurn”. We’ll be taking questions from you, our DailyBurn community, to answer with the latest in health and fitness research. If you have a question for us to answer, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear DailyBurn: I work out 4 times a week for an hour each time. I did Cody’s Tactical Cardio about 2 hours ago and I’ve had a pounding headache ever since. This is not uncommon but it doesn’t necessarily happen every time either. Is there something I should be doing differently?
Answer: Many people get headaches that are triggered by intense exercise. One study found that 35% of respondents had experienced sports and exercise-related headaches. Exertion headaches are the most common type of sports headache. Exertion headaches happen during the most intese period of an exercise session, or just after the conclusion of the exercise session. Still, little is known about the exact cause and prevention of exertion headaches.
The reason that exertion headaches are so difficult to prevent and treat is that there are a number of factors that can contribute to that throbbing pain in the front of your head. A few of the factors the scientists have identified as possible contributors to headaches during and after exercise include:
* High altitude training
* Training in heat and humidity
* Low electrolyte levels
* Overexertion (for example, trying to run a marathon when you have only trained to run a 10k)
Even highly conditioned athletes can develop partial vision loss, pain in the frontal area of the head behind the eyes, nausea and vomiting, and in runners, bad running form during intense exercise.
Just because exertion headaches are common doesn’t make them any less painful or annoying to deal with. Nobody wants to spend an hour on the couch with the lights off after a workout praying for the pain to stop. There are a few things that you can do to prevent these headaches, but it is going to take some experimentation on your end to see what works and what doesn’t. Here are some strategies that may prevent these headaches, although scientists and doctors do not have a prescribed prevention plan for exertion headaches that work for everyone.
* Don’t workout in heat and humidity.
Some people are more prone to headaches in hot and humid environments because they sweat excessively and lose sodium faster than most people. Some people overheat and can’t regulate their internal temperature in hot weather, while others are more efficient at staying cool. If you get overheated, workout in the coolest hours of the day, or in the coolest room in your house.
* Supplement your water with electrolyte tablets.
You may be drinking plenty of water during your workout, but if your body is low in electrolytes like sodium and potassium, your cells can’t pull in the water. This results in dehydration, which will cause you to get a dehydration headache. Instead of drinking plain water, add an electrolyte tablet to your water bottle. You can get tubes of flavored and sugar-free electrolyte tablets at any running or sports store.
* Don’t push yourself over the edge.
There is a difference between working out hard and overdoing it. You have to be realistic about your abilities. Don’t try to do high intensity exercise for an hour straight if you are not conditioned. Instead, you can get a great high intensity workout in just 20 – 30 minutes. If you are going to complete a difficult workout by pushing yourself beyond your current boundaries, don’t do it before work or before a big event. Instead, do your hard workout in the evening so that you have time to relax and go to bed early if a headache does creep up on you.
If you do experience an exertion headache despite your prevention experimentation, there are a few strategies that might help the pain go away faster.
* Relax in a dark room with a warm heating pad across your forehead to increase blood flow. Some people find that alternating a heating pad and a cold pack on their head eases pain, while some people respond to heat only.
* Take an over-the-counter pain medication. Some people respond to pain medications like ibuprofen. Be sure to drink plenty of water, and consult your doctor before taking any medication, over-the-counter or otherwise.
* Take a nap. If all else fails, try to sleep off your headache. Don’t sleep for too long, or you may disturb your normal sleep schedule.
There is no one solution for preventing and easing the pain of exertion headaches. Each person has to experiment to see which strategies work best for them.
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