Why severe headaches occur after running?

Headaches that occur after a running session should not occur. If the individual experiences a headache after exercising, a doctor should be consulted to determine what is actually happening so that appropriate diagnostic test can be performed and rule out various conditions. Always bear in mind that straining, sneezing, lifting, bending or running should not trigger a headache in any way.

Benign exertional headache

Even though exercise can help minimize the pain due to a tension headache, if the individual suffers from severe headaches after a running session, a doctor should be consulted. The doctor might diagnose the individual with benign exertional headache that can be instigated by certain events such as sneezing or a strenuous run. If the individual develops this condition, he/she might have pain for only a few moments or for several hours. Once the individual suffers from migraine headaches, he/she should not exercise during an attack.

Neurological issues

Exertion headaches

In most cases, anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen should be taken 1-2 hours ahead of an exercise routine to prevent headaches.

Abnormalities inside the brain can instigate a severe exertional headache. Once the doctor is aware of the symptoms, he/she can schedule MRI of the brain or magnetic resonance angiography which focuses on the blood vessels inside the brain. In case the individual has an inherited risk to migraine headaches, he/she is more likely to end up with exertional headaches.

In most cases, the doctor will also check the blood pressure as well as perform thyroid screening test and lumbar puncture in case subarachnoid hemorrhage is suspected. The possibility of any neurological issues should be considered.

Possible conditions to consider

In case the individual develops severe headaches during or after a running session or other physical activity, the doctor might want to rule out an obstructive lesion in the lower aorta. Other medical conditions that must be considered and ruled out include arteriovenous malformation, subarachnoid hemorrhage, tumors, chronic subdural hematoma, colloid cyst of the 3rd ventricle, platybasia, tumor in the posterior fossa, hypoglycemia, basilar impression, hypertension, Arnold-Chiari, hyperthyroidism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pheochromocytoma, stroke or meningitis.

Treatment for the headache

In most cases, anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen should be taken 1-2 hours ahead of an exercise routine to prevent headaches. The typical dosage is 500 mg of naproxen. Other beneficial medications include ibuprofen, aspirin or ergotamine. If in doubt on the medications to use, it is best to schedule an appointment with a doctor so that the proper medication and dosage can be given.

If the individual experiences a severe headache after a running session, the treatment for migraine headaches or severe muscle contractions might be useful. These include the application of a cold compress, medications and resting in a quiet dark room. Even over-the-counter pain medications that contain caffeine can also help or medications are prescribed to manage the headaches.


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