Sports exercise headaches are exertion headaches that involve pain during or immediately after sports, exercise, or some physical activity. They come on quickly but can last a few minutes, hours, or days. Activities associated with exercise headaches include running, weightlifting, tennis, swimming, and rowing. Chiropractic, massage, decompression, and traction therapies can realign the body and relax the muscles allowing for optimal circulation and certain strategies to help prevent future episodes. Usually, there is no underlying disease or disorder, but it is recommended to talk to a healthcare provider to make sure.

Sports, Exercise, Physical Activity Headaches Chiropractor

Sports Exercise Headaches

When individuals exert their bodies intensely, they need added blood and oxygen, particularly with activities that involve tightening/tensing the abdominal muscles or increasing chest pressure. Doctors and scientists believe an exertional headache occurs when intense physical activity causes the veins and arteries to expand to circulate more blood. The expansion and increased blood circulation generate pressure in the skull that can cause pain.

Alternate Triggers

Exercising is not the only cause; other physical activities that can trigger an exertion headache include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Straining to use the bathroom
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Liftingย  or moving a heavy object


Symptoms of a sports exercise headache include:

  • Neck stiffness or pain
  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Pulsating pain discomfort
  • Throbbing pain discomfort
  • Shoulder tightness, discomfort, and/or pain

Sometimes individuals report the headache can feel like a migraine that could include:

  • Vision problems like blind spots
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Light sensitivity

Most exercise headaches last five to 48 hours and can continue for three to six months.


An underlying disease or disorder does not cause most exertional headaches. However, individuals experiencing severe or frequent headaches should consult their doctor or a healthcare provider. Tests will be ordered to rule out possible causes that include:

If there is no underlying cause found, the medical provider can diagnose exertion headaches if there have been at least two headaches that:

  • Were caused by exercise or physical activity.
  • Started during or after the physical activity.
  • Lasted less than 48 hours.

Chiropractic Treatment

According to the American Chiropractic Association, spinal adjustments are an effective headache treatment option. This includes migraines, tension headaches, or sports exercise headaches. Using the targeted approaches, chiropractic restores the body’s natural alignment to improve function and alleviate stress on the nervous system. This allows the body to operate at optimal levels reducing muscle stress and muscle tension.

DOC Decompression Table


American Migraine Foundation. Secondary Headaches. ( Accessed 11/17/2021.

Evans, Randolph W. “Sports and Headaches.” Headache vol. 58,3 (2018): 426-437. doi:10.1111/head.13263

International Headache Society. HIS Classification ICHD-3. ( Accessed 11/17/2021.

McCrory, P. “Headaches and exercise.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 30,3 (2000): 221-9. doi:10.2165/00007256-200030030-00006

National Headache Foundation. Exertional Headaches. ( Accessed 11/17/2021.

Ramadan, Nabih M. “Sports-related headache.” Current pain and headache reports vol. 8,4 (2004): 301-5. doi:10.1007/s11916-004-0012-1

Trotta K, Hyde J. Exercise-induced headaches: prevention, management, and treatment. ( U.S. Pharm. 2017;42(1):33-36. Accessed 11/17/2021.

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The information herein on "Sports Exercise Headaches Sciatica Clinic Chiropractor" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez
Specialties: Stopping the PAIN! We Specialize in Treating Severe Sciatica, Neck-Back Pain, Whiplash, Headaches, Knee Injuries, Sports Injuries, Dizziness, Poor Sleep, Arthritis. We use advanced proven therapies focused on optimal Mobility, Posture Control, Deep Health Instruction, Integrative & Functional Medicine, Functional Fitness, Chronic Degenerative Disorder Treatment Protocols, and Structural Conditioning. We also integrate Wellness Nutrition, Wellness Detoxification Protocols and Functional Medicine for chronic musculoskeletal disorders. We use effective "Patient Focused Diet Plans", Specialized Chiropractic Techniques, Mobility-Agility Training, Cross-Fit Protocols, and the Premier "PUSH Functional Fitness System" to treat patients suffering from various injuries and health problems. Ultimately, I am here to serve my patients and community as a Chiropractor passionately restoring functional life and facilitating living through increased mobility. Purpose & Passions: I am a Doctor of Chiropractic specializing in progressive cutting-edge therapies and functional rehabilitation procedures focused on clinical physiology, total health, functional strength training, functional medicine, and complete conditioning. We focus on restoring normal body functions after neck, back, spinal and soft tissue injuries. We use Specialized Chiropractic Protocols, Wellness Programs, Functional & Integrative Nutrition, Agility & Mobility Fitness Training and Cross-Fit Rehabilitation Systems for all ages. As an extension to dynamic rehabilitation, we too offer our patients, disabled veterans, athletes, young and elder a diverse portfolio of strength equipment, high-performance exercises and advanced agility treatment options. We have teamed up with the cities' premier doctors, therapist and trainers in order to provide high-level competitive athletes the options to push themselves to their highest abilities within our facilities. We've been blessed to use our methods with thousands of El Pasoans over the last 3 decades allowing us to restore our patients' health and fitness while implementing researched non-surgical methods and functional wellness programs. Our programs are natural and use the body's ability to achieve specific measured goals, rather than introducing harmful chemicals, controversial hormone replacement, un-wanted surgeries, or addictive drugs. We want you to live a functional life that is fulfilled with more energy, a positive attitude, better sleep, and less pain. Our goal is to ultimately empower our patients to maintain the healthiest way of living. With a bit of work, we can achieve optimal health together, no matter the age, ability or disability.