Before a good run, it is expected you take all proper precautions to make sure your body is ready for activity.
You stretch. You hydrate. You do everything to make sure your body is adequately taken care of for the run.
While you are running, you are focused on the road ahead of you. You are focused on your breathing, your technique, and finishing strong.
Your heart rate increases; you are working up a good sweat, a headache is not even on your mind (pun intended).
It is not unusual, but it is essential to know why you might be at risk of getting headaches after running and how to treat them appropriately.
Though headaches after running can be attributed to multiple factors, what happens to the body at a biological level influences how the body will react during and after exercise.
Dehydration, low blood sugar, sun exposure, and other factors can influence how the body recovers from exercise and can, in turn, manifest painful headaches and possibly cause different symptoms.
1. You are Dehydrated
Like any physical activity, it is crucial to be adequately hydrated before, during, and after exercise.
This way your body can maintain proper fluid and electrolyte levels.
Chances are, you sweat quite a bit during a run.
While most activities of daily living involve some fluid loss, activities like running can require the body to expel more fluids than it can replace.
This lack of replenishment is called dehydration.
Dehydration can cause mild to severe headaches and cause more severe symptoms like muscle cramps, lightheadedness, confusion, dry skin or mouth, or even seizures.
Just Add Water
You can treat mild dehydration symptoms by replenishing fluids and electrolytes lost during a run.
While sports drinks can help replenish lost electrolytes, they also contain many unwanted sugars that can often make a headache worse.
If sports drinks are at your disposal, watering them down will help dilute sugars while still hydrating and replacing lost electrolytes.
It is also helpful to consider drinking 1 to 3 cups of water 2 hours before running, as well as drinking a glass or two of water following a run session.
2. Low Blood Sugar
While maintaining hydration is essential in reducing post-run headaches, what you eat beforehand can also be a factor.
The brain relies on a stable level of sugar to act as fuel. As fluids are lost during a run, sugar (glucose) levels also begin to diminish.
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can cause headaches, confusion, irritability, dizziness, and fatigue.
The Key in Carbs
The best practice for preventing and treating headaches related to low blood sugar is ingesting a healthy snack or small meal within two hours before a run.
Maintaining regular and steady levels of sugar in the body pre-run decreases the chance of blood sugar levels running low and manifests in headaches and other related symptoms.
Those experiencing these symptoms can also ingest a fruit or fruit drink as a quick fix, followed by some carbohydrate like a peanut butter sandwich.
3. Check the Neck
Anatomy can be a simple yet overlooked reason for headaches during and after running.
Proper alignment and neck position during a run can significantly influence an impending headache's chance.
For instance, running with your neck in a prolonged forward-head position can cause stress, stretching, and muscle imbalances surrounding the neck.
While running in this position, tension is developed in the posterior muscles of the neck, causing a pulling sensation.
The pulling sensation manifests into a headache. You can feel from the eyes and how it radiates down the back of the neck.
It is often referred to as a tension headache, given the tension created on the muscles.
The best way to treat neck pain/stiffness is by targeting the affected areas with mobilizations, soft tissue massage, stretches, and rehabilitation exercises.
Manual therapies will greatly reduce tension, pain, and improve mobility, making it easier to stretch shortened muscles of the neck.
In some cases, using myofascial release techniques can also improve the elasticity of the muscles.
Methods to improve elasticity of the muscles can include tennis balls, thera canes, and foam rolls.
By introducing rehabilitation exercises, you can target weakened muscles to improve strength greatly, while simultaneously relaxing overactive muscles.
4. Sun Exposure
Running outside for an extended period can be a very taxing activity depending on heat, distance, and other extrinsic factors.
While muscles can begin to become tired and sore with every stride, the sun above you can become a more pressing enemy to your head.
With continued sun exposure, those more prone to headaches and migraines can become more sensitive to light.
By running outside on a bright day, the sun can be a constant factor shining in your eye line.
The continuous squinting from the sun's rays can create tension within the muscles of your face and forehead, which can lead to headaches.
To avoid a headache triggered by the sun prevention and planning is vital.
You can perform several techniques and changes to better protect yourself from triggering an unwanted headache.
Taking routes in more shaded areas, opting to run indoors on a treadmill, wearing protective sunglasses, hats, and even running during times of low sun exposure can all reduce a sun-related headache.
When Is It Serious?
While some headaches can be treated with changes in environment, physical therapy, diet, and over the counter medications, it's essential to take notice if these treatments are not helping.
After running, prolonged and more painful headaches should be regarded as unusual and should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Experiencing headaches after running multiple times a week can also be a sign of a more underlying health issue that you should refer to a doctor.
Another case for calling a doctor is if your headaches come with other symptoms such as nausea, blurred vision, or even vomiting.
Take Care, Be Aware
Understanding how you can take care of yourself before and after running through over-the-counter medications, physical therapy, diet changes, stretching, and proper hydration can reduce your chances of nagging headaches.
But it is also important to recognize and understand more severe symptoms after running may need to be analyzed by a doctor to determine any underlying health problems.
Prevention and knowledge can work in conjunction to help you return to your running route without the threat of worrisome headaches!