A headache can bring productivity to a grinding halt and they always happen at the most inconvenient times. Before you pop a painkiller, you might want to consider some of these surprising headache triggers.


“Certainly caffeine withdrawal can cause headaches – for heavy caffeine drinkers who suddenly try to ‘detox’ or ‘caffeine cleanse’, they can develop severe headaches with the sudden cessation of caffeine. I’d recommend weaning yourself off slowly if your caffeine intake is heavy!” says GP, Dr Preeya Alexander.

Consuming too much caffeine can also leave you with a pounding head. “400mg of caffeine/day is the maximum recommended intake for a healthy adult so keeping an eye on how much caffeine you are getting and making adjustments to beverages as needed is certainly a good idea,” she says. To put it in perspective, the average cup of coffee has 95-100mg.

Being hungry

“You can get headaches if your blood sugar level drops too low. It’s called hypoglycaemia,” says Dr Alexander. “So after long periods of no food you may well develop a headache.” It’s important to eat regularly during the day, especially if you’ve done an early morning session or plan on working out after a day in the office. Go for a low-GI snack mid-arvo if you’re prone to feeling the brain drain around 3pm.

Feeling stressed

You know that headache you get when your to-do list is a metre long? It doesn’t always require a paracetamol. “This is most likely going to be a tension-type headache, which is the most common form of headache. Stress and anxiety (and a long to-do list) can drive these headaches and we believe the headache arises due to muscle tension in the neck and scalp,” explains Dr Alexander. “These headaches are usually mild and located across the temples. There is limited evidence to suggest that de-stressing with regular exercise, relaxation activities and physiotherapy can assist with these types of headaches,” Dr Alexander says.

After a tough workout

“Most likely this is due to dehydration. If you don’t drink enough water both during and around your training session, you may become dehydrated. A headache is often your body’s way of telling you to increase the fluids!” says Dr Alexander. If you’re experiencing post-sesh headaches, make sure you’re drinking throughout your workout and afterwards. Giving yourself the opportunity to cool down by stretching and sitting still for 5-10 minutes after you’re done should also give your heart rate time to come back down to normal. Rushing off after a workout to other commitments can result in a hazy feeling so make sure you’re giving yourself time to breathe.

Poor posture

The way we sit and stand can put unnecessary pressure on the spine and neck. If you’re slouching in your seat, rounding your shoulders, clenching your jaw or not standing up often enough during the working day, this could be causing tension. Take a break every 30 minutes, even if it’s just to stand, stretch and sit back down again. Take a walk every 90 minutes to refill your drink bottle or just for a quick stroll. Making this a habit can also reduce your chances of a concentration headache from too much screen staring.

Your ponytail is too tight

Don’t laugh, we’re serious! If you’ve had your hair pulled back in a slick pony all day then your hair could be causing excess pressure on your head. When the connective tissue under the scalp gets strained, causing pain or throbbing, the best thing to do is let your hair down for quick relief.

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