Answered by Danya Reich on Monday, June 1, 2009
It all depends on the type of headache you have, says Fred Sheftell, M.D., director of the New England Center for Headache. "For people who are having acute episodes of migraine, it's not even a question. One of the characteristics of migraines is that the headache is worsened by any activity." However, for tension-type headaches—a more common affliction—exercise will certainly not hurt and will probably help.
Figuring out which form your head pain has taken simply means going through a mental checklist of symptoms. "A migraine is characteristically more one-sided and throbbing, often with some nausea and sensitivity to light and sound," Dr. Sheftell explains. "Tension headaches tend to affect both sides, with a squeezing headband or skull-cap sensation and tightness in the neck and shoulders." The reason exercising may help is that it improves cardiovascular performance and also raises levels of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. But it's also a great stress reliever. "Especially if the headache is coming from a stressful workday or being in a fixed position all day staring at a computer screen," says Dr. Sheftell.