What causes a headache when bending over?

Reviewed by:
Angela DiLaura, NP
Clinical Informatics and Quality Manager
Last updated on August 13, 2022 UTC

Headaches are one of the most common problems of the nervous system, affecting virtually everyone at least once in their lifetime. Many headaches do not have an underlying cause and are usually nothing to worry about. However, other types of headaches could be a sign of something more serious, like meningitis or a brain tumor, which requires an immediate visit to the doctor

Some people may experience an intense headache when bending over. This can have many potential causes, which makes it important to meet with a healthcare provider to discuss signs and symptoms.
This guide from HealthTap goes over the potential causes of a headache when bending over and what can be done to get relief. 

What causes a headache when bending over?

The possible causes of a headache depend on whether the headache is primary or secondary.

A primary headache is not a result of an underlying medical condition. As such, it is the kind of headache that is a condition in and of itself. Some well-known primary headaches include migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches. 

On the other hand, a secondary headache is a symptom of a health problem, which can vary from something as harmless as morning caffeine withdrawal to something as serious as an aneurysm (a type of blood clot) in the brain. When the underlying condition resolves through treatment, the headache often resolves as well. 

Because a headache can potentially be a sign of something serious, it’s important not to self-diagnose, and to see a healthcare provider for a full medical evaluation. 

During a physical exam, a doctor might ask the following question to get to the root cause of the headache:

  • Where is the pain located? Is it on the back of the head or on the side of your head?

  • How severe is the pain?

  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as fever, dizziness, or sinus congestion?

  • When did you first start experiencing headaches?

  • If your headaches are recurring, what triggers them? 

  • Do you have any known medical conditions? 

In addition to getting a patient’s medical history, healthcare providers may choose to do a brain imaging test, such as a CT scan or MRI. These can reveal anything “abnormal” in the brain that may explain the headache.

What types of headaches can occur when bending over? 

Only a healthcare provider can diagnose the cause of a headache when bending over. That said, the following are some of the most common headache types that may lead to this symptom.  

1. Cough headache

Some cough headaches can be due to structural abnormalities in the brain, such as the skull being too small to accommodate the brain. However, in most cases, cough headaches are fairly harmless and go away on their own.

For most patients, there is no underlying condition that leads to cough headaches. Beyond coughing, head pain can be due to sneezing, laughing, or bending over. The pain often occurs  in the front or sides of the head, and can be moderate or severe.

Even though cough headaches can be extremely painful, they usually don’t last very long. Their duration can be anywhere from one second to 30 minutes. Because of how short they are, painkillers are typically not necessary — instead the headaches will usually go away on their own. 

However, if a patient has a persistent headache and experiences symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, and fainting, a visit to the doctor can be beneficial. Another cause for concern is a cough headache that lasts longer than several hours and reappears often after coughing or any other type of straining.

2. Dehydration headache

Dehydration can become a serious problem depending on how long it lasts and how severe it is. The right balance of fluids and electrolytes is responsible for many of the body’s functions, such as keeping blood pressure stable and cushioning the brain. Losing as little as 1% of total bodily fluids can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, such as brain fog and a headache when bending over. 

A dehydration headache generally occurs alongside other dehydration symptoms, such as dry mouth, fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, and muscle cramps.

3. Migraine headache 

Migraines are a chronic headache disorder that affects millions of adults in the U.S. It is a disabling condition that usually entails intense throbbing pain on one side of the head. Beyond pain, migraines can also cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, vision problems, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines are occasionally mistaken for a tension-type headache.

Those with frequent migraines may experience “warning” symptoms before the migraine attack, such as visual auras. These warning signs can include visual changes, such as seeing flashing lights or black dots, and even smell sensitivity, and can last up to 30 minutes before the headache sets in. 

Some people may also experience post-migraine symptoms that are similar to those of a hangover. These symptoms can last for days following a migraine attack.

What triggers a migraine is unique to each person. For some, a migraine can result from emotional stress, lack of sleep, or alcohol consumption. Although it’s not common, some people can experience a migraine from intense physical activity, especially those that involve bending over. 

4. Sinus headache 

A sinus headache is most commonly the result of a sinus infection (also known as sinusitis). This can lead to pressure behind the eyes, the cheeks, and the sinuses, which can feel like headache pain. The pressure may worsen when bending over due to mucus build-up. 

Fortunately, a sinus headache will usually go away once the underlying cause (sinus infection) resolves. Most sinus infections resolve on their own over time, but home remedies such as rinsing the sinuses with salt water, breathing in steam from a humidifier, or applying a warm compress to the face may help soothe symptoms in the meantime. 

5. Positional headache 

A positional headache, also known as an orthostatic headache, happens when changing body positions, such as from sitting to standing up. 

A positional headache is usually due to problems with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the fluid that cushions the brain in the skull. When there is too little CSF, the brain can press up against the skull, leading to pain. 

A positional headache can also occur as one of the side effects of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which happens when blood pressure drops too quickly when standing up. 

A positional headache can worsen during physical activity, especially if the activity involves moving between different positions. The pain may get worse when bending over, but bending over by itself is not typically enough to cause a positional headache. 

How do you treat a headache from bending over?

Getting to the underlying cause of the symptom is crucial for the treatment of a headache when bending over. A licensed healthcare practitioner can make a diagnosis of any underlying health conditions, and recommend treatment plans accordingly. 

Some at-home treatment options can be helpful for headache relief. Taking over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers when the headache pain is moderate or severe may be an effective strategy for temporarily managing discomfort. Some popular OTC medications include ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin, or acetaminophen (Tylenol). It may also help to rest in a dark and quiet room when experiencing a headache. 

Some lifestyle changes can prevent headaches from occurring in the first place, or at the very least, reduce how severe they are. As a rule of thumb, anything that improves general health and wellness may also help improve headache symptoms.

Some of the most important lifestyle changes for headache prevention include getting sufficient high-quality sleep, reducing sources of emotional stress or practicing stress management techniques, and getting enough physical activity every day. 

For some people, it might help to test for food allergies as these can be a trigger of headaches, too. 

For those who spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen, it might help to reduce the brightness and wear proper eyewear to reduce eyestrain. 

A combination of the right diagnosis with at-home remedies may be enough to significantly reduce headaches when bending over. However, some headaches may not resolve as easily. If someone experiences headache pain in addition to symptoms such as high fever, mental confusion, muscle weakness, and loss of balance, it could be a sign of a health emergency that requires immediate medical attention. 


A headache when bending over usually has an underlying cause. If you experience this type of headache, meeting with a healthcare provider can help you get to the bottom of the issue.

HealthTap can connect you with a online doctor who can review your symptoms, conduct medical tests as needed, and give you a diagnosis. You can access all of these features right from the comfort of your own home with our virtual platform. 

Schedule an appointment today to get the relief you need


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