It’s been a while since I’ve done a non-parenting related post…This post is for anyone experiencing exercise headaches or any other pain and wishes to be completely cured. Or at least it’ll give you some food for thought. Enjoy!

I started experiencing exercise headaches when I was 14 years old. I spent over 15 years in pain every time I physically exerted myself. The doctors told me there was no cure and I’d simply have to live with it.  Upon deciding this was unacceptable I took matters into my own hands. At the age of 30, I was completely cured.

What are Exercise Headaches?

According to the Mayo Clinic “Exercise headaches occur during or after sustained, strenuous exercise. Exercise headaches are usually harmless, aren’t connected to any underlying problems and can often be prevented with medication.”

Basically, I was in pain every time I did anything physical from gym class in school, a workout at the gym, playing sports with friends, a brisk walk on a hot day, or even cutting the grass.

The pain would start at the base of my neck and work it’s way up into my head. It usually began with an intense throbbing in my head before resulting in a headache. The throbbing was usually more intense if I stopped the activity immediately (e.g. subbing off during a soccer game and immediately sitting on the bench).

My Experience with Exercise Headaches

I have loved sports and exercise my entire life. In my youth, I did 20+ hours of gymnastics each week, I was involved in various sports teams and clubs at school, and went to the gym regularly into my adult years. I was determined to continue doing the things I loved despite the pain.

If I did a 6am workout I’d have a headache the rest of the day. I knew not to hit the gym on days where I had important meetings or presentations to deliver.

If I played an evening soccer game then I knew there’d be an excellent possibility I’d have a headache through the next day.

I enjoyed the activities and paid the price later.

Some people may have given up sports altogether but I didn’t want my pain to limit me.

My Experience with Standard Medical Care

When the headaches first started, the term “exercise headache” didn’t exist. I was sent to various specialists to undergo a series of tests. After about a year, I was told there was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t given any next steps, any new ideas or strategies. The doctors simply shrugged their shoulders and left me to my own devices.

I didn’t bring it up with my doctor again for 15 years. And despite the thorough investigation, my doctors never mentioned it again.

The first doctor I talked to told me it was a tension headache and to get a massage. I was pretty pissed when I left his office. Even I, an untrained non-medical professional, knew he was completely out to lunch.

That made me a bit reluctant to bring it up again with a different doctor but I did. He immediately diagnosed me with exercise headaches.

The solution: drugs. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s the only real solution doctors give (or surgery). I was prescribed medication to take prior to doing any strenuous exercise.

I was someone who rarely took medication of any kind but I was ecstatic that I was finally given a diagnosis and offered a solution (although I’ll use the term solution loosely – I don’t consider drugs of any kind a solution).

The prescription ended up being too strong and I switched to an over-the-counter pain killer instead (Extra Strength Advil or Alieve). I took these before working out.

The drugs gave me two important insights that ultimately led me toward a full cure.

  1. It made me realize that the throbbing in my head was a prelude to a headache. Prior to this I thought everyone experienced that, which I know sounds insane.
  2. It made me actually feel what it would be like to be pain-free.

The Problem with Drugs

Although taking the painkillers alleviated the pain, I had two major issues.

First, the pain from the headaches had vanished but I was experiencing other pain. The pain killers were masking signs of injury. For example, when I rolled my ankle playing soccer I wouldn’t notice. I wouldn’t receive the cues from my body (i.e. pain) and therefore I kept playing. A few hours after a game I would start to feel the sore ankle and wonder what was going on.

Second, it seemed counter-intuitive to need to drug myself before exercising. I viewed drugs as overall harmful and to be avoided whenever possible. Exercising, on the other hand, was beneficial to my health. Why did I first have to harm myself in order to be healthy?

I didn’t like it.

I didn’t want to take the drugs anymore. I also didn’t want headaches. I didn’t know how to have one without the other.

The Method of Healing

It was early spring. I was listening to an audio recording where the speaker described a conversation with a friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer. He was talking about the importance of beliefs in the healing process.

The main message: If you couldn’t believe that you could be cured then you would never be cured, regardless of the treatment process.  If your beliefs determine your recovery then change your beliefs.

But how do you go from being in pain or sick to believing without a doubt that you can be cured?

The speaker described the conversation with his friend.

  • He asked his friend, “Do you believe you can recover fully from cancer using natural treatments?” The friends response was no. He wanted to believe it but it was a far cry from where he was.
  • “Do you believe that other people have fully recovered from cancer?” Yes.
  • “Do you believe that other people have used natural treatments successfully to cure cancer?” Yes.
  • “Think about that for a while.”

In this example the speaker illustrated that belief is a sliding scale more than black and white, yes or no.  If it’s too much to jump from being physically ill and scared to believing without a doubt that a full recovery is eminent then aim for less. Figure out what you can believe and sit there for a while. Then, as that belief grows stronger it will be easier for you to believe the next step.

My Road to Being Fully Cured of Exercise Headaches

This was a brand new concept for me. My beliefs could be slowly changed. This was certainly worth a try on my headaches. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I was motivated.

I started with this.

  • Did I believe I could cure myself of exercise headaches? No. I wanted to but it had become a part of me. I didn’t believe it was possible.
  • Did I believe other people could cure themselves of exercise headaches? No. I hadn’t heard of any stories. The only solution I had heard was taking drugs and that’s not a cure.
  • Did I believe I could play a full soccer game without getting a headache? Hell no! Not possible.
  • Did I believe I could play a full soccer game and not have the headache continue into the next day? Yes. This didn’t always happen to me. I knew it was possible.

It was May at the time and the start of our summer soccer season. My only goal for each game was to be headache-free the day following a soccer game.

Thanks to the drugs, I knew that the throbbing in my head was a prelude to a headache. If I felt my head starting to pound I would sub off. I took it easy while playing. I held back. This was something that went against every cell of my competitive being. I felt like I was letting my team down. That was something I had to get over. My goal was to be headache-free the next day.

I succeeded in achieving that goal. Yay! That was progress.  I then focused on having the headache gone by bedtime the same day. And eventually not getting one at all.

By September I could play a full 90 minute soccer game without getting a headache. And I no longer had to hold back. My beliefs had shifted and so had my body’s response to physical activity.

I haven’t had an exercise headache in over 4 years.

It wasn’t an overnight solution. It took effort and restraint.

But it worked.

Next time you’re sick or in pain or feeling hopeless about our health see if you can shift your beliefs, even slightly. There’s no reason you can’t experience the same results I did. And who knows, maybe you’ll be able to do it faster than I did!