Is Golf giving you a Headache?

HarryDear The Golfing Doc. I need some help with headaches. I sometimes get headaches simply from my bad playing but I do get real headaches when I play. It tends to happen more often when it’s hot or in the summer months. Do you have any thoughts on why I get these and how I can get rid of them? Thanks. S. Williams, University Place, WA.”

There is no other way to say it other than headaches suck! Whether you develop one while you are playing golf due to frustration and anger or because of some other reason, headaches are not fun. Some headaches are temporary and go away on their own. These are the easy ones. Maybe an Advil or Tylenol even helps to speed up the process. Other headaches are more long lasting and vicious. Sometimes over-the-counter medications won’t even touch them. You might need a specific prescription medication just to help take the edge off.

Did you know there are over 150 types of headaches that can be diagnosed? Each of these have different triggers, causes, and symptoms. However, there is one common headache that golfers do experience usually during the warmer months. These are called exercise induced headaches. These headaches tend to occur during or after golfing or some other form of strenuous exercise. If you experience this headache for the first time, or, it is the worst one you have ever had, then see a physician immediately.

Exercise headaches can be divided into two types. The first type is known as a Primary Exercise Headache. These are usually harmless but annoying. There is no underlying medical condition and they can be prevented with an over-the-counter medication. The second type is known as a Secondary Exercise Headache. These are more serious and are due to an underlying condition. It may be due to something as severe as a brain tumor or bleed and requires emergency medical attention.

Primary exercise headaches are normally what golfers experience while playing especially in the heat. The main symptom is usually throbbing in the head. This can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 days. The exact cause of this type of headache is unknown but the leading theory is that exercise dilates the blood vessels in the skull. It is somewhat similar to a common migraine.

In a secondary exercise headache, the throbbing is accompanied by more severe symptoms such as vomiting, double vision, and loss of consciousness. If this is the case, you should seek immediate medical attention as it may be caused by a serious underlying condition.

Here are some tips to help stop an exercise headache from starting:

  1. Stay Hydrated – Drink water regularly throughout your round. If you can’t avoid the sports drinks, then at least alternate between water and the sports drink. Caffeinated drinks are not the best as they might make your headache worse. I’m sure you can guess what I will say about beer!
  2. Eat a Salty Snack – Almonds and peanuts are good snacks for the course. These help replenish the salt you are losing through your sweat. This will also help your body absorb the water you are drinking.
  3. Warm Up & Cool Down – A good warm up will help prepare your body before you play. This will slowly increase your heart rate and help regulate blood flow. A cool down post-round will help settle the body and also help to prevent some muscle soreness.
  4. Watch Your Breathing – This will help keep the body calm, heart rate steadier, and also kee your swing in good order. Breathing usually becomes shallow and rapid after a bad swing. This often leads to more bad shots and a bad round overall. The bad round might cause you a headache!
  5. Medications as a Last Resort – If the above tips do not help, then you may need to speak to your physician about trying medication to control your headaches. These can be as simple as an over-the-counter NSAID to a more aggressive medication that regulates your blood flow. Some supplements such as magnesium may also be helpful.

Now, if your headache is due to your golf game, that’s a different story. A golf lesson might be one of your solutions.

Overall, headaches can be difficult to manage. Finding the trigger is one of the most important factors to preventing them. If you do experience headaches regularly, I highly recommend you visit your physician for further evaluation.

Dr. Harry Sese is the Clinical Director at the Washington Golf Performance Institute in Bellevue, WA.


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