Lifting Headaches: How to Spot, Avoid, and Remedy Them
The term “exertion” refers to any activity that causes your body to use energy. You might have heard of the word “fatigue.” Exhaustion is when you are tired from doing something; fatigue is when you feel tired because of something else. When you lift weights or do other physical activities, your muscles work harder than usual.
Exercise causes your body to release chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are naturally occurring substances produced by the brain and spinal cord. They make us feel good—like euphoria, happiness, or relaxation. When you exercise regularly, these endorphin chemicals build up in your system and give you a feeling of well-being. Just like with any other drug (like caffeine or nicotine from cigarettes), you build a tolerance for the endorphins.
As you exercise, your body needs more endorphins to get the same euphoric feeling. Over time, you’ll need to run farther, or lift heavier weights, or play another period of soccer to reach that same high. And this can lead to injury!
Exertion headaches are very common. You might feel like you have a mild pressure in the front or behind your eyes. This is often accompanied by a dull ache around your temples and the back of your head. Your neck muscles might also feel tight—like they do after working at a computer for too long. Sometimes, it feels like a band is squeezing around your head.
As with any headache, you can also get nausea, light sensitivity, and soundsensitivity along with your exertion headache.
People who exercise a lot are at risk for exertion headaches. If you’re an athlete or train for a sport, you may already know this pain all too well. And if you work out at a gym, make sure to pace yourself! You don’t want to overdo it and get one of these nasty headaches.
How to Cure an Exertion Headache
The first thing you can do for an exertion headache is drink a little water. This will prevent dehydration, which is thought to cause some exertion headaches. If you’re not thirsty, don’t force yourself to drink! It won’t help.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) sometimes helps, but don’t take it if you’re allergic!
Pay Attention to What You Eat. If you eat poorly, your body won’t have the energy it needs for physical activity. Make sure you eat balanced meals before and after exercise. Many people find that eating simple sugars like a candy bar or drinking a sugary sports drink helps them get through their workouts. But don’t overdo it!
Too much sugar is never a good thing.
If you’ve eaten recently, avoid exercise for at least an hour. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofin (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) can also help with the pain.
If you’ve tried these home remedies and your headache is still throbbing, see a doctor. You don’t want to damage your brain or do any harm by ignoring the problem.
Have you ever gotten an exertion headache?
Tell us about it in the comments section below! Eating and strenuous exercise don’t mix. It’s not good for the heart, and it can cause your exertion headache to get worse.
How to Prevent Exertion Headaches
If you have an exertion headache right now, what should you do?
Common pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen) and ibuprofen can help.
Most of the time, though, you just need to rest and drink fluids.
If you’re dehydrated, even a glass of water can help!
Exertion headaches are fairly common—and easy to treat. But if you feel faint or have other concerning symptoms, go see a doctor right away.
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