Nothing can put out that post-workout glow faster than a migraine attack. But why might exercise cause a migraine attack to strike?
A bunch of different things can trigger a migraine episode. And for some folks, their fave workout might be one of those triggers. This may be because exercise can lead to other migraine triggers, such as dehydration and neck or back pain.
Here’s what might be going on if you get migraine episodes after exercise, and how to deal.
Real talk: While experts know that workouts can cause a migraine attack, they’re not exactly sure why.
In a 2013 study, researchers asked 103 people with chronic migraine if they had ever experienced an attack within 48 hours after exercise. Thirty-eight percent of participants reported that their workouts had triggered migraine attacks at least once — but not necessarily every time they worked out.
Some specific types of movement could be behind this agonizing head pain. Repetitive head movements or movements that place pressure on your head can trigger an episode or make existing symptoms worse. So sit-ups or Downward Dog could be to blame for a migraine attack.
Environmental factors may also come into play. Getting hot and sweaty as your body’s movin’ and groovin’ is common, but working out in hot, humid spaces could lead to a migraine attack. Exercising at higher altitudes can also be a trigger.
Migraine attacks have many possible causes aside from exercise. Some common migraine triggers are:
- hormonal changes
- too little sleep or poor quality sleep
- neck, shoulder, or back issues
- not drinking enough water
- certain foods or drinks that contain sugar, caffeine, or alcohol
- bright lights
- too much screen time
- strong smells
- changes in the weather
- certain medications, including birth control or sleep meds
- menstruation or menopause
Many of these triggers can pop up because you’re getting your sweat on, especially if you’re not taking care of your body during or after exercise. Not staying properly hydrated, using improper form, and letting workouts interrupt your sleep sched could all trigger an attack.
Other factors can also put you at a higher risk of getting a migraine, such as:
- Genetics. Yep, good ol’ genes, baby. A family history of migraine means you’re more likely to experience migraine attacks yourself.
- Sex. Research suggests that females are more likely to have migraine than males. Hormones, menstruation, and other sex-specific factors may contribute to this.
- Age. Migraine can begin at any time, but you’re more likely to start experiencing them between ages 25 and 55. Those who deal with chronic migraine may start getting these vicious head pains in their teen years.
If you get a migraine attack after working out, you may experience:
- throbbing head pain
- pain on one side of your head
- sensitivity to light or sound
- vision problems
- ringing in your ears
- vertigo or dizziness
- changes in body temp
- visual, auditory, or sensory aura
And if you’re already dealing with a migraine attack before you hit the gym, working out will likely make your symptoms worse.
The best defense against migraine pain after exercise is prevention, prevention, prevention! Try these tips to help keep exercise-induced migraine attacks at bay (or to lessen their effect!).
Watch the weather
When the weather gets hot and humid, be sure to drink plenty of water and stick to working out in cooler locations. If you can, switch up your usual workout time to avoid the hottest parts of the day and stick to indoor activities in temp-controlled spaces.
Wearing layers can also be helpful to avoid getting too hot or too cold.
Don’t forget the warm up … and cool down
It’s easy to skip the warmup and go right to the main event when hitting the gym. But spending a good 10 to 15 minutes warming up before jumping into your workout can reduce your risk of a migraine attack and help prevent potential injury.
And it’s just as important to take a few minutes to cool down after your workout.
Take the intensity down a notch
If you find that your workouts are triggering migraine attacks more often than not, it may be time to switch up your routine.
Try other migraine prevention remedies
Whether your migraine pain is exercise-induced or not, there are plenty of other ways you can nip it in the bud before it starts, such as:
If a migraine attack starts creeping up after your sweat sesh, stop what you’re doing and take a break. Then, find a place to sit or lie down (a cool, dark, and quiet place often works best!) and drink some refreshing H2O. From there, you might need to use some other treatment methods.
Some at-home methods and natural remedies that *might* help relieve migraine pain include:
- cold compresses
- drinking plenty of water
- aromatherapy using essential oils like lavender or peppermint oil
- breathing exercises
- CoQ10 supplements
- vitamin B2 (aka riboflavin)
- magnesium supplements
Over-the-counter (OTC) meds that may help relieve migraine pain include:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil)
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- combination drugs like Excedrin
Other alternative and medical procedures may also help reduce migraine symptoms, such as:
A healthcare professional may recommend prescription-strength preventive and treatment options if you’re dealing with migraine on the regular. These can include:
If migraine attacks are getting in the way of your day-to-day — including your workouts — it may be time to seek guidance from a pro. A doctor or other healthcare professional can provide a diagnosis and offer options for treatment.
You should also talk with a doc if:
- you’re experiencing exercise-induced migraine more often than not
- preventive measures or OTC treatments aren’t helping
- you’re experiencing five or more migraine days each month
- your migraine symptoms are getting worse over time
Head pain can also be a sign of a more serious issue, like a tumor or an aneurysm. Even if you think exercise is behind your migraine attacks, your doctor may want to run some tests to rule out any underlying conditions.
Migraine attacks can strike at the most inconvenient times — including after a workout. Known as exercise-induced migraine attacks, these literal pains in the head may be a result of certain movements or positions, environmental factors, or dehydration.
While a variety of natural remedies, OTC meds, and prescription meds can help treat migraine, the best line of defense is prevention. You can help prevent exercise-induced migraine attacks by drinking plenty of water, avoiding working out in hot or humid environments, and doing high intensity exercise only in moderation.