You Wanted to Know: Post-Workout Pains

Athlete running road silhouette

Exercise can flood your body with feel-good endorphins, boost your circulation, ease stress and help you sleep better. So it can be annoying when all your good post-workout feelings get interrupted by bodily bothers like extra gas and headaches that can be triggered by exercise.

Mark recently asked us about his post-workout pain on Twitter:

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A headache occurring during or after exercise could be an exertional headache, which usually affects both sides of the head and has a pulsating quality. They can last anywhere from five minutes to two days, and while researchers haven’t been able to nail down exactly how common they are, some studies suggest that up to 12% of people will experience them at some point.

Alternatively, exercise that involves increased abdominal pressure such as weight lifting may also trigger headaches (known as cough headaches), and some people who are prone to migraines may notice that exercise can trigger their symptoms.

The exact cause of exertional headaches is unknown, but they may be related to increases in abdominal or thoracic pressure that cause dilation, swelling or irritation of vessels and membranes in the brain. Exertional headaches are usually benign and often improve over time. In one study, 32% of people stopped getting exertional headaches within five years, and 78% noticed significant improvement or remission of their headaches after 10 years. If the pain is interfering with your life, certain medications such as indomethacin or propranolol that help regulate heart and blood vessel function may be able to reduce symptoms.

Less commonly, post-exercise headaches can be a sign of another problem, such as previous head trauma, a malformation of the vessels in the brain, hemorrhage into the brain or a tumor. If your headache is new, progressively worsening or different than your usual headaches, consult your doctor. In addition, exercise-related headaches that persist longer than a couple days, or that are associated with vomiting, nausea, dizziness, unintentional weight loss, vision problems, neck rigidity or fainting should always prompt you to see your doctor.

Another bothersome symptom exercise can cause is excess gas. @wanimohd101 asked us on Twitter why she tends to burp after a good workout:

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Belching, heartburn, flatulence and even loose stools are common during and after exercise. Part of the reason for this is that exercise alters the motility of the digestive tract and may affect contractions of the esophageal sphincter, allowing more gas to escape. One study found that dehydration can make abdominal symptoms during exercise worse, so be sure to bring water with you to the gym. Avoiding milk products, meals high in fiber, foods with high fructose and NSAIDs before exercising may also help reduce exercise-related gastrointestinal symptoms.