T Nation

Exertion Headaches

Can anyone here give me some advice on these?

I’ve been suffering for two weeks now, the original headache came on during a set of incline bench. This was a high volume, low intensity workout - I thought exertion headaches were usually associated with high intensity?

I’ve since had problems whenever I ‘exert’ myself e.g. lift weights, have sex, etc.

Please, any help or advice on getting over this problem would be greatly appreciated.

I’ve also had exertion headaches. Going to a chiropractor always solves my exertion headache problems. It has something to do with the muscles in my neck. This isn’t the only answer, but it works best for me.

What you’re experiencing isn’t something to toy around with. Have you had your BP checked recently? Are you using any medications or supplements?

yea definately get it checked into. A few months ago, i was getting them while lifting, but i luckily stopped getting them after a week or two.

Tsbball - My headaches ‘appear’ to stem from my neck as well, I’ve felt very tight and sore in this area since the initial episode.

Cy - My blood pressure was fine when checked a couple of months back, I am not on medication and I am not using any supplements right now.

I have an appointment with a chiropractor tomorrow morning and I hope this clears the matter up.

I experienced this on Friday. During a DL, at the top of the movement, I felt a sharp pain at the base of my skull which rapidly progressed to a headache and dizziness. The dizziness subsided in about 5-7 minutes. The headache did not go away until I took some ibuprophen. Then, yesterday, I was doing the OHP and the headache came back. Doing DB bench press did not agravate it. It’s not my breathing cause I’m very concious of it. I still have pain at the base of my skull and a slight headache. I’m not sure if it’s an exertional headache or a problem with tight trap/neck muscles or a cervicle spine issue. Either way, it’s a damn scarry thing when it happens. It’s also not real conducive to a great workout after it happens. I’m thinking of seeing a chiro to see about the cervicle spine thing. Anyone else have this happen before? Any suggestions? Steve

As far as tension headaches go, I suffered with them from the moment I started lifting when I was a teenager. I don’t have them now because I am always stretching the muscles in my neck. My headaches seemed to be caused by the thin muscles that attatch to the base of the skull in back. I definately think a chiro doc will help, but make sure you get a good stretch and massage in that area before you lift again. It also helped me to balance out the neck mucsculature by working on bridges. Check out Matt Furey’s site if you haven’t already. Keep a neutral neck allignment in all your lifts. Doing inclines probably made you look up for an extended period of time, maybe even putting the pressure on your head (did you arch?), not your shoulders and traps as you would in a flat bench. Hope this helps!

T-Rex, let me know how things turn out. Don’t expect a miracle to happen right away with a chiropractor. It usually takes a few days for the adjustment to set in. I would go at least 3 times before I make a final judgement on whether the chiropractor option worked or not.

Tsbball, the situation has become somewhat more complicated!

I went to see a chiropractor and he concluded that my neck is the most likely cause of the problem. Unfortunately my blood pressure was way up (which is unusual for me) and he was therefore unable to make the neccessary adjustments.

I am now going to see my doctor to check out the blood pressure situation, as soon as this is resolved I shall be going back to the chiropractor.

I hope the two problems are not linked at this would be pretty scary!

Cy, I note from your earlier response that you were concerned that my blood pressure may be up. You’ll see from my previous response that this is indeed the case.

I am not on medication or any supplements right now, I do not usually suffer from high blood pressure.

My reading is around 160 over 105, I am 27 years old. I’d certainly appreciate any comments you have, I am seeing my doctor shortly.

I had thought your BP was up simply due to the fact that whenever there was any kind of physical exertion, you began to have a headache. Well this usually, can be linked to high BP. As for the cause, I can’t say. You said that you normally have great BP levels, and you also said nothing in your program has changed, so I don’t really know what’s going on here.
Your doctor can evaluate you in person, whereas, I can’t. Also he’s had MUCH more training in diagnosis than I’ve had as well. Your best bet is to go to your doc. Let me know what happens.

T-Rex, what kind of diet have you been following lately? (fats, salt intake, etc.) Have you been under a lot of stress lately? Were you nervous at the doctors office? There are a lot of factors that can effect your blood pressure. Your diastolic (bottom number) of your blood pressure is the one to be concerned about. Anything in the mid to lower 90’s calls for attention. 105 is very high, especially for somebody your age. The diastolic is what your blood pressure is in between heart beats. (When your heart is resting) Your top number is also high (systolic), but the diastolic is the number that is primarily looked at.


Saw my Dr today and for reasons unknown my BP has dropped to where it usually is - 115 over 75. Pretty weird but at least it seems the exertion headaches are down to muscular problems.

I’m seeing my chiropractor on Monday and hopefully he’ll be able to make the neccessary ‘adjustments’ to my neck.

Anyway gents, just wanted to say thanks for the input.

I’ll tell you what. Some people who lift are prone to cervical headaches. I get them even when Im not lifting. I get them in my traps and the base of my scull. I started to take 2000 MG of MSM and that helps alot. Give it a shot, it cant hurt. MSM can take a month to work though so give it a chance.

I have these headaches every so often and I have found that stretching helps. Sit on the end of a bench or chair and hold on to it between your legs and then lean your body backwards. It really gives me a good stretch.

T-Rex, It’s good to hear that your blood pressure is not the problem. High BP is a Pandora’s Box that can lead to many other health issues. Have you still been trying to workout, or have you completely shut them down? I was always able to lift very light with low intensity when I had the exertion headache episodes. But, any strain whatsoever brought them on. I can definitely understand the blood pressure issue. When I had my headaches, I could actually feel my heartbeat pulsating in the back of my neck (through the arteries or veins, whatever it is located back there). The first thing I did was check my BP, but it turned out normal. Anyways, good to know it’s not your BP.

I began getting the same headaches this month. I was doing squats and all the sudden I thought me head belw up. Ouch, it lasted for two weeks. When I lift heavy now I exhale deeper and it keeps my headaches away.

I saw my chiropractor on Monday and having ascertained that my BP was now fine he made four adjustments to my neck.

Guess what? No more exertion headaches irrespective of workout intensity!

Thanks for all the input guys!

Chiropractor: An athletes best friend!