Tennis headaches
August 27, 2016 2:06 PM   Subscribe

My husband has been getting headaches after playing tennis, and we have not been able to figure out what is causing them or how to prevent them. Advice very much appreciated! Full details "below the fold."

He gets a headache more or less every time he plays, and we're not sure when that started, but it has been happening at least for a few months, if not more. The headaches start an hour or two after he's played. He has tried drinking lots of water, drinking a homebrew of water + salt + sugar on the theory that electrolytes were relevant, and drinking coconut water. The headaches are not so overwhelming that two Advil can't knock them out eventually, but he'd really rather not have a headache every single time he plays tennis.

He wants me to emphasize that he drinks two liters ("at least") of water every time he plays for two hours. He also wants me to mention that he is "a sweaty dude." Also, and this is what prompted the aforementioned electrolyte theory, he has observed what may be salt on his forehead after playing.

He plays outside, and it's summer here in New York, so there is an overheating theory as well, due to which he has been sourcing the most advanced cooling technology that exists in wearable tennis clothing, including special "arm sleeves" of cooling fabric.

Again, all tips and theories appreciated. Tennis is his great passion and it is a real bummer that he has to deal with headaches instead of just being able to fully enjoy it.
posted by prefpara to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Is he taking in enough electrolytes? Just drinking a lot of water by itself can push your body into weird imbalances in my experience.

I get terrible heat-stroke headaches from dehydration - If I recognise the signs early enough then I can head off the inevitable headache by drinking salt+sugar water, but if it gets to the point that I need that salt/sugar water then no amount of plain water will solve the problem.
posted by pharm at 2:12 PM on August 27, 2016

When I was doing hot yoga, I found that it was important to get super hydrated about 2-3 hours prior to exercising. The water I'd drink during class wasn't especially hydrating since my body couldn't absorb the water as fast as it was sweating. (I'm sure there is a sciencey explanation)
posted by politikitty at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know that it is not optimal to play tennis in sunglasses*, but has he tried playing in sunglasses? Or at least a visor?

*Also does he use vision correction normally? If so, is it the right kind for tennis? Is it up to date? Is he not using it when playing? In other words, is he possibly suffering eye strain?
posted by Lyn Never at 2:18 PM on August 27, 2016 [14 favorites]

My friend's son passed out with heat stroke and severe dehydration during a soccer match. When she told the doctor at the hospital he had been drinking water during the game, the doctor said that dehydration is less a reflection of what you have done today than what your water intake has been in the few days prior. So if this is indeed dehydration (and I think a doctor may need to examine him to rule out anything more serious), make sure he is well-hydrated all the time, not just when playing.
posted by cecic at 2:20 PM on August 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I used to get this after exercise (I have a looong history of headaches and migraine and am a sweaty lady). What worked for me was hydrating a lot before and after exercise, mixing electrolyte tabs/powder with my water during exercise, AND making sure that I've eaten properly before and after to keep my blood sugar on an even keel. This took some experimenting, but made a huge difference.

Since he plays outside I'd also look at if squinting in the sun is causing a tension-type headache.
posted by daisysteiner at 2:20 PM on August 27, 2016

I agree this is very likely heat/exposure related. My husband is an avid tennis player and an absolutely (beautiful) sweaty furnace of a person. His hydration methods are almost exactly like what your husband does and are effective for him to stay comfortable after long summer matches. One difference I can point to is that he now wears a very lightweight baseball-style hat that is white everywhere except for the bottom side of the brim. There are a ton of examples, including visors, but the search term "climacool" seems to point to what I'm talking about. Wearing the hat took getting used to for his peripheral vision, but blocking the sun and covering his head seems to have made a world of difference.
posted by juliplease at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, you may have seen this already, but there are some good headache prevention/assistance tips in this thread as well.
posted by juliplease at 2:31 PM on August 27, 2016

Does he skip coffee on tennis days? I get awful witdrawal headaches when I skip my daily caffeine dose.
posted by The Toad at 2:48 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is he eating enough to compensate for the extra calories he's burning? This can be especially tough in hot weather if you're someone who loses their appetite when they get hot and sweaty.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:57 PM on August 27, 2016

How's his blood pressure?
posted by jferg at 3:02 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Caffeine before exercise may help. It does for me, a migraineur who also gets exercise-induced headaches.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:26 PM on August 27, 2016

I am not sure saying "headache" is enough information. A bit more specificity might be helpful--diffuse, specific location (neck/base skull. temporal, frontal) and type--burning, stabbing, throbbing, aggravated by movement. are there any other concurrent symptoms--unusual fatigue, muscle aches, is he thirsty, photo-sensitivity. and does it resolve itself, without medication, in an hour or two or does it persist. If he engages in other strenuous physical activity does he experience post exercise headaches/symptoms. Sorry for all the questions.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:28 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that he's tensing his neck/traps/shoulders in his swing and that's translating to headache?
posted by platypus of the universe at 3:59 PM on August 27, 2016

I get them from sunglare & tennis courts can be mighty bright & then you are trying to see a bright colored ball on a bright background. Does he wear sunglasses & a brimmed hat? Does he need glasses, has he had his vision/prescription checked recently. Bright light and watching a light colored ball zooming around would trigger a migraine in me so fast.
posted by wwax at 4:32 PM on August 27, 2016

Does your husband have any allergies? An hour or two outside might be enough to trigger sinus headaches.
posted by deeparch at 7:41 AM on August 28, 2016

Headaches are often down to the expansion of blood vessels in the brain -- this is apparently the source of the pain of migraines, for example -- and if it turns out his blood pressure is OK, I would wonder whether he's drinking too much fluid.

Because very heavy exercise like tennis makes big muscles in the body increase in volume significantly, and when a person stops playing and the muscles shrink back down, that fluid has to go somewhere, such as into intercellular fluid or into the general circulation outside the muscles, and if that happens faster than the kidneys, sweat glands, and evaporation from breathing are getting rid of it, you might expect vasodilation in order to accommodate it, including in the brain.
posted by jamjam at 11:55 AM on August 28, 2016

I have a long standing problem with the trapezium muscle in my shoulder. When it is strained it causes a headache up through my neck and behind my eyes. Could it be a strain there? Does he stretch properly? Could he have a week off the tennis to check whether it is that specific physical exercise that is causing the problem?
posted by biffa at 3:02 PM on August 28, 2016

I just remembered something and went to google it to see if I'd remembered right - "poop headaches", as in a headache that is precipitated by having a dump queuing up, and then goes away when you poop, it's a neurological thing, and physical activity stimulates the bowels so I thought maybe that was a possibility - I also got a result for "exertional headache", which is apparently something that happens to like 10% of the population.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:48 PM on August 28, 2016

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