How to Handle Your Kid’s Headaches After Sports - Nemours Blog


How to Handle Your Kid’s Headaches After Sports

A young teenage boy with a headache.

Benefits of physical activity and exercise are well-known, but what happens when your child gets a headache after each practice or game? I often hear from soccer moms whose kids love soccer, but get headaches after each round of playing time. It’s actually more common than you may think and there are several reasons why they may occur. Let’s discuss the most common causes of headaches after sports, and how to make them stop.

Heat-Related Illnesses

Heat-related illnesses are basically caused by exposure to prolonged amounts of heat and humidity without rest and adequate fluid and salt intake. Living in a hot environment can definitely predispose athletes to this.

Heat related illness are generally broken down into 3 categories:

  • Heat cramps
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heat stroke

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the more severe forms of heat illness, where the body is unable to cool itself properly. Headaches can be present in these two forms of heat illness, but there are usually other symptoms present.

Heat related illness can be prevented by plenty of fluid intake, avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun, taking rest periods in shaded or cool areas, and gradually increasing time outdoors to get used to the heat.

Exertional Headaches

Exertional headaches occur during or after strenuous exercise. These types of headaches are broken down into two types: primary exercise headaches and secondary exercise headaches.

Primary exercise headaches are usually harmless and do not have an underlying cause, whereas secondary exercise headaches are triggered by an underlying condition such as a sinus infection, ear infection, or more serious problems such as a brain bleed or tumor. Although headaches are a symptom of secondary exercise headaches, there are usually additional symptoms present. Secondary exercise headaches may require emergency medical attention.

With primary exercise headaches, there are usually some easy fixes and straightforward treatment to prevent these types of headaches from happening in your child.

Hydration and Nutrition

Staying hydrated and eating regular meals throughout the day is key to help prevent exercise headaches. Drinking water or sports drinks before, during and after exercise will help your athlete to stay hydrated and replaced fluids that will be lost during play. Most kids, even athletes, need only plain water to stay hydrated.

Proper Warm-Ups

Sometimes children who are new to a sport or are in a new environment (Did you recently move from a different climate?) will need more time to adjust and build up their exercise level to allow not only their bodies to adjust, but also their brains!


Living in a hot and humid environment will definitely expose athletes to overheating and headaches.  Proper clothing and shaded areas (if outdoors) can definitely help keep a child’s body from overheating.

Boy with orange peel for smile

There are many ways you can help your young athlete reach her full potential as an athlete. Exercise and proper hydration and nutrition are healthy habits you can turn into family activities. Consider keeping a poster in your kitchen to track each family member’s daily water intake. Set goals and reward those who meet them. You can also involve your kids in meal planning. Find out what healthy meals their favorite professional athletes eat and try to work that into your family’s plan. Lastly, plan an after-dinner walk with your athlete or the whole family. And maybe a weekend bike ride!

With any type of headache, if your child is experiencing frequent or severe exercise headaches, it is best to consult your pediatrician for further evaluation.

Jason Read, MD

Jason Read, MD, is a pediatric sports medicine physician at Nemours Children's Specialty Care in Jacksonville, Florida.