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Self: Why You Get Exercise Headaches When You Work Out

Self magazine recently interviewed Ilan Danan, MD, sports neurologist and pain management specialist at the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, about exercise-induced headaches.

“These kinds of headaches are common, to the point where most athletes get them at some stage, even if they’re only for a few minutes,” said Danan.

In fact, as Self reports, a study published in Cephalalgia: An International Journal of Headache of about 1,800 people from Norway found that approximately 12% of participants had experienced an exercise headache at least once in their life. Exercise headaches typically mean pulsating pain that occurs on both sides of your head and can last anywhere from five minutes to 48 hours, according to a review of headache types published in the journal Current Pain and Headache Reports.

But when it comes to understanding why exercise may induce these headaches, Danan suggests there are plenty of unknowns.

“To be honest, we don’t have a good answer for exactly why they’re happening, but there are some solid theories based on the physiological responses you’re experiencing as a result of exercise,” Danan told Self

He asks people to think about it this way: when exercising, your heart rate increases and oxygen demands increase on your muscles and brain, which causes blood vessels to dilate for the increased circulation.

“That sudden shift might increase pressure in the blood vessels in your brain,” said Danan. “And a short-term headache can result while it does.”

To combat this, Danan suggests focusing on your breathing technique while exercising, especially during strength training.

“People have a tendency to unconsciously hold their breath during effort, like when you’re doing core work, for example,” said Danan. “This can increase your intracranial pressure, and the body’s response is a headache. It's that tightness that causes a dull ache.”

Click here to read the complete story from Self.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Exercise During Pregnancy: What's Safe?