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When Running Becomes a Headache…

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You have
a great training session, but then suddenly, either right away or sometimes a
bit later, you are hit with a headache, often leaving you frustrated and
irritable. After all, exercise should bring on health benefits, definitely not
headaches!

 

Exercise headaches often occur during or after sustained,
strenuous exercise, and activities most commonly associated with exercise
headaches are running, rowing, tennis, swimming and weightlifting. There
are a variety of reasons why athletes sometimes complain about headaches after
exercise, says Dr Elliot Shevel,
founder and chairman of the
International Headache Society’s South African branch.

 

CAUSES

“The
most likely cause is that there may be increased muscle tension in the neck or
jaw muscles during exercise,” says Dr Shevel. Often without even noticing it,
runners clench their jaw muscles when they are training, or when a particular
part of the training sessions is strenuous.

 

Another
possible cause may be due to the increase in blood pressure affecting the
arteries of the scalp, which are often responsible for migraine pain, while dehydration
and hot weather could also be to blame. In fact, in many cases it is often a
trigger for migraine. “It is important to have an adequate intake of fluid when
exercising, especially when it is hot and one is losing fluid through
perspiration,” says Dr Shevel.

 

WHEN IS IT SERIOUS?

So when
are these exercise-induced headaches serious and when should one consider going
to see a doctor or headache specialist? “It is advisable to have what is called
a multidisciplinary assessment, which includes, but is not limited to, a
neurological examination. The neurological examination is to rule out any
possible serious cause, which fortunately for most headache sufferers is not
frequently found. Once this has been done, then the structures on the outside
of the skull are examined to find where the pain originates,” says Dr Shevel.

 

“Certain
people get exercise headaches because they either have a tendency to muscle
tension, which can be made worse by exercise, or because their arteries react
by becoming painful. Both of these conditions need proper treatment, after
which exercise will no longer bring on the headache.”

 

RULE OF THUMB

If you
suffer from a headache after nearly every training session, it may very
possibly mean that you suffer from the above symptoms, or something more
serious, and it is best to get it checked out.
If you have a bad headache after
exercising, and it’s never happened before, or if you’ve had headaches before,
but this one is somehow different, get to a doctor right away.

 

But what if it’s just common for you to sometimes get a
headache after working out? This might mean you may simply have an exertional
headache, which can happen to anyone. If you realise your headaches are
brought on every time you train in hot weather or when you are dehydrated, be
smarter in your training next time and see if that helps.

 

“The
bottom line is that getting headaches should not stand in the way of you
enjoying an exercise session. There are prevention methods and cures. In fact,
if you are a migraine sufferer, the latest study on the subject has shown that
exercise can often reduce the number of migraines one gets. It is not a cure,
but it can help,” says Dr Shevel.

 


Dr Shevel has published 30 scientific studies in
national and international peer-reviewed medical journals on migraine and
tension headache. In his capacity at the Headache Clinic, he heads a team of
practitioners, specialists and researchers, including neurologists, surgeons, physiotherapists,
radiologists, general practitioners, psychologists and dental specialists.


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