Cycling headaches or exercise headaches are painful headaches that occur either during or shortly after an extended period of exercise. I’ve suffered from exercise-induced and cycling-induced headaches for years, so I think I can speak to both the cause and prevention.
It is important to remember that although exercise-induced headaches are common, if you are experiencing an exceptionally painful headache, have accompanying symptoms, or have a headache that will not go away, you should visit your physician. The internet shouldn’t be a substitute for medical treatment – but it can help provide a better understanding of cycling headaches.
For me, my cycling headaches rarely strike when I’m riding. Most of the time, the pain doesn’t hit until an hour or two after a ride. But once it does, it’s a throbbing, long-lasting headache that makes me think twice about attempting my next long ride. In most cases, exercise headaches are described as throbbing headaches that happen either during or after exercise and usually affect both sides of the head.
I’m a frequent migraine sufferer, so headaches are not new to me. I describe my cycling headaches as very similar to migraines except that they occur in both sides of my head as opposed to just one side with a migraine. The other differentiation, of course, is that these headaches occur after I exercise.
Understanding Cycling Headaches
Cycling headaches are sometimes referred to as exertional headaches. During periods of strong exertion, extra blood flows to the muscles of the head and neck. The blood vessels in the head, neck, scalp, and face made swell to allow for better circulation. This is one of the reasons that your face and neck become flushed during exercise.
Cycling headaches are more common in individuals like me, who already experience migraines. Some people even have post-orgasmic headaches caused from exertion. Although these headaches are generally considered benign, it’s important to understand that a headache can be a sign of another cause- some which are even life-threatening.
If you have never experienced a cycling or this type of headache before and you are suddenly suffering from a bad headache after a long ride, you should see a physician to rule out other medical causes.
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Treatment and Prevention of Cycling Headaches
Cycling headaches and exercise headaches generally respond well to traditional headache treatments. Ibuprofen or indomethacin are often the treatments of choice for these headaches as, in addition to relieving the pain, they decrease swelling. One of the contributing factors of these headaches is dehydration. If you, like me, sweat heavily, be sure to drink plenty and supplement with sodium and electrolytes.
Drink plenty of water both before, during, and after your ride. A good rule of thumb is that you should feel the need to urinate about once and hour during periods of exercise. If you are not urinating regularly or your urine is dark in color, you are probably not drinking enough.
Another contributing factor is heat and sunlight. Prolonged periods of time in the sun can cause headaches and can make an exertional headache worse. If you feel an exertional headache striking, it’s best to get to a cool place away from sunlight, take a pain reliever, and rest. Overexertion will prolong or even worsen the headache, so rest as soon as it strikes.
Low blood sugar can be a factor in this type of headache. If you are prone to low blood sugar, be sure you have a snack on hand in case you experience a dip.
I found that my cycling headaches improved when I wore a cooling band around my neck. Not only did this band help keep me cool, it also lessened some of the excess blood flow to my head and neck. This is a simple $20 fix that can really make a difference. I also prepare for long rides by increasing my hydration levels in the day leading up to the ride. It means a few extra trips to the bathroom, but that’s definitely worth avoiding the dreaded cycling headache!
One final tip- if you are prone to cycling or exertional headaches, speak with your doctor about taking a dose of ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory prior to exercise. This helps block some of the inflammation which can lead to headaches. It also acts as a preventative to lessen the pain if you do experience a headache.
Cycling or riding headaches can really ruin a ride- but far worse is the pain that comes from being involved in a bicycle crash. If you were struck by a motorist and face injuries, contact an attorney from our team at Kass & Moses today. We will help you get maximum compensation for your injuries and pain and suffering. We are cyclists, too, so we know just how important it is to get riding again!