Exercise headaches

Exercise headaches occur during or after sustained, strenuous exercise. Some activities associated with exercise headaches include running, rowing, tennis, swimming and weightlifting.

Doctors divide exercise headaches into two categories. Primary exercise headaches are usually harmless, aren't connected to any underlying problems and can often be prevented with medication.

Secondary exercise headaches are caused by an underlying, often serious problem within the brain — such as bleeding or a tumor — or outside the brain — such as coronary artery disease. Secondary exercise headaches may require emergency medical attention.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

These headaches:

  • Are usually described as throbbing
  • Occur during or after strenuous exercise
  • Affect both sides of the head in most cases

Secondary exercise headaches

These headaches may cause:

  • The same symptoms as primary exercise headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Double vision
  • Neck rigidity

Primary exercise headaches typically last between five minutes and 48 hours, while secondary exercise headaches usually last at least a day and sometimes linger for several days or longer.

When to see a doctor

If you experience a headache during or after exercise, consult your doctor. Call your doctor right away if the headache begins abruptly or if it's your first headache of this type.

© 1998-2015 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use