Headache After Running? 4 Main Causes of Headaches When Running

Do you occasionally suffer from a headache after running? When you get done with a run, you should feel accomplished, not dealing with a nagging headache. These headaches are not uncommon, but they can be frustrating after a solid run. 

Avoiding these headaches after a run is important for all runners, whether it happens after a brief 2-mile run or a marathon training session. These headaches can be caused by a variety of factors, and while they’re usually pretty easy to combat sometimes it’s worth getting them checked out.

In this article, we’ll look at the different types of headaches when running:

  • Exertional headaches
  • Dehydration headaches
  • Low blood sugar headaches
  • Poor running form leading to headaches

If you find yourself asking “why do I get a headache after running?”, it’s likely that one of these are the culprit. We’ll walk you through the signs for each one, and what to do about it.

As always, if you’re in any doubt about the nature of your headache, the best bet is to seek professional medical advice – better to err on the side of caution.

Ready to take about headaches and running?

Let’s jump in!

headache after running

The 4 Main Types of Headache After Running

1. Exertional Headache

If you have ever experienced a throbbing headache after running, you are not alone. These headaches are known as “exertional headaches” and they tend to happen after a high intensity workout

According to Healthline, “Exertional headaches are headaches triggered by some type of physical activity” One of the most common types of physical activities that cause these headaches are running. 

headache when running

The pain from an exertional headache is different from your usual headache.

If you have an exertional headache, you will feel more like your head is throbbing, like a pulsing sensation on both sides of the head rather than targeted sharp pain. If you are experiencing this type of headache, you will know it. 

These types of headaches are specific to hard runs or workouts.

Exertional headaches come in two types:

  • Primary exertional headaches happen for unknown reasons, but are possibly caused by a narrowing of your blood vessels as you run.
  • Secondary exertional headaches are triggered by an underlying issue, which can range from a simple cold to a tumor.
why do I get a headache when running

How To Treat and Prevent An Exertional Headache After Running

In the short term, an anti-inflammatory pain relief can help clear the headache.

Usually, exertional headaches begin to stop happening on their own after a few weeks or months of training.

However, if you’re getting frequent headaches, it’s probably a good time to get them checked out.

headache after running

2. Dehydration headaches 

Being dehydrated is the main cause of a headache after running. As you are running, you are losing water while you sweat, and you may not be drinking fluids throughout your run. 

When your body is losing more water than it is taking in, the blood flow to your brain decreases, which in turn can lead to headaches. Making sure you are replenishing your electrolytes during a run is important in avoiding dehydration, and therefore a headache when running. 

headache after running

An electrolyte imbalance will cause your performance to drop off, as well as lead to a headache once you are finished with your run. Many people experience cramping in their legs or sides that go with headaches. 

Ensure you drink small amounts of fluid regularly, to the point of not experiencing thirst. According to Active.comMost experts recommend three to six ounces of fluid every 30 minutes”. 

Before your run you should drink some fluid – drinking water or a sports drink are two ways to get your fluid levels ready. You can also test your urine to check how dehydrated you are. Anything darker than a light straw colour means you should take on some fluids.

urine hydration chart headache after running

Runners should also be drinking water during their run if it is longer than around 45 minutes.

Before, during and after exercise, you should be hydrating and ensure your body has the right levels of fluids and electrolytes, or your performance may suffer and you can get a workout headache. Proper hydration is one of the most important rules of running. 

Further Signs That Your Headache Is Due To Dehydration

Other symptoms of dehydration include:

  • lightheadedness
  • thirst
  • fatigue and lack of energy / enthusiasm
  • lack of need to use the bathroom
  • dry mouth
  • constipation

If you think you’re suffering from dehydration, drink more – and don’t forget your electrolytes!

A sports drink is the perfect replenishment after a run.

Dehydration and distance running can lead to running with hemorrhoids.

headache after running

3. Low Blood Sugar Headaches 

Proper hydration is not the only nutrition issue that can lead to a headache after running. Glucose is one of the main sources of energy for runners and is constantly being burned while you are running. When you have less sugar in your blood, you are giving your body less fuel to run your brain. 

Low blood sugar leads to hypoglycemia, which is essentially a lack of glucose.

Other symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Feeling very hungry
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Diziness
  • Feeling disorientated / changes in personality.

You should avoid eating foods with excess simple sugars or fat before a run. Eating a balanced snack before your run can ensure your body has the nutrition it needs to take you the entire distance. 

Feeling Fatigued After A Run? Read Our Guide On Lactate Threshold And How To Improve It

headache when running

4. Poor Running Form Leading To Headaches

As a runner, you know how much of your performance can be tied to how you run.

Well, if you have bad running form, not only can you not get the best out of your workout or hurt yourself, you can also be giving yourself a headache after a run. 

Improper form can lead to extra tension in your neck and shoulder area. The stress on these parts of the can lead to a headache after running. Next time you are running, take note of your head, neck, shoulders, and back. Notice if there is any excess strain in places like your neck, as some runners like to lift their head up when they are feeling fatigued. 

Related: Here’s Our Guide To Proper Running Form

If you notice that you are aching while running in those places, it may be best to look at how to improve your running form.

headache when running
Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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