What Causes Headaches When Bending Over?

By Chris Bodle, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
September 10, 2020

If you have ever experienced a sudden headache when bending over or changing positions, it can feel alarming, but it’s usually not something to worry about. While headaches are painful and unpleasant, they are also very common. According to the World Health Organization, roughly half of the world’s adult population suffers from a headache every year.

Headaches are generally categorized into two types: primary headaches, where head pain is the chief complaint, and secondary headaches, where head pain is caused by an underlying condition, like the common cold. Getting to know the kind of headache you’re experiencing and what may be causing it can help you find relief.

Why Does My Head Hurt When I Bend Over?

There are two broad types of headaches that you can have—primary and secondary headaches. Primary and secondary headache disorders are among the most common ailments in the world.

  • Primary headaches: When head pain is the primary or only patient complaint, it is usually a primary headache. The three common primary headaches include tension headache, migraine, and cluster headache.
  • Secondary headaches: When head pain is caused by an underlying condition, disease, or structural issue, the headaches are considered secondary. Secondary headaches can include positional headache, sinus headache, and cough headache, among others.

Regardless of type, all headaches can negatively affect your wellbeing, especially if the pain is severe. Some can be triggered or exacerbated when you change body positions. Most patients who experience a headache when bending over are suffering from one of a few types of headache. Let’s take a closer look at each type of headache and their associated symptoms.

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Dehydration headache

Dehydration headaches are a secondary headache disorder caused by dehydration, a condition during which you lose more fluids than you take in. If you’re dehydrated, you’ll likely experience head pain that increases when you move your body, particularly when you walk, bend over, or move your head from side to side. You may also experience other symptoms including fatigue, dry mouth, irritability, light headedness when standing up, thirst, or infrequent urination.

If your dehydration is mild, symptoms should improve with time and increased water intake. If the condition is more severe and includes symptoms like fever, diarrhea, or dark yellow/brown urine, you should seek medical attention right away.


Migraines are a recurrent primary headache disorder that affect more than 38 million adults in the United States every year. If you have migraine headaches, you may experience pain on one or both sides of the head and other symptoms like blurred vision, sensitivity to light, sound or smell, seeing light spots, or nausea. You’re more likely to get migraines if you’re genetically predisposed, but they can also be triggered by certain foods, drinks with alcohol and caffeine, loud noise or bright lights, sleep changes, stress, medication, and physical activity, including bending over.

If you have a known history of getting a migraine headache when standing up or bending over, it may mean that physical activity is a trigger for you. If this is the first time you are experiencing a migraine because you’ve bent over, it may be time to talk to your doctor to rule out any other conditions or factors that might be giving you pain.

Sinus headache

A sinus headache is a secondary headache caused by pain and pressure that you feel due to a viral infection that causes inflammation in the sinuses behind your forehead, cheekbones, and under the bridge of the nose. Roughly 30 million Americans suffer from sinus infection symptoms every year.

Sinus headaches are characterized by pain, fullness, or pressure in your face, nasal congestion or stuffy nose, fatigue, and an achy feeling in your upper teeth. You may feel the pressure, pain, or headache gets worse when bending over or lying down.

Positional headache

Positional headache, sometimes called orthostatic, low-pressure, or postural headache, is a secondary form of headache that can be exacerbated when your body changes positions. A positional headache is an uncommon condition, affecting only five in 100,000 patients every year.

If you have positional headache symptoms, you may feel your pain is more intense if you’re engaging in activities or moving your body from one position to another. You may feel more pain when you cough or sneeze, when you exercise or strain to have a bowel movement, or when you engage in sexual activity. Sometimes, your pain can worsen when you move from sitting to standing, from standing to sitting, or when you bend over. Positional headache symptoms tend to improve when you lay down.There are a variety of underlying conditions that may cause positional headaches including anemia, a spinal fluid leak, a colloid cyst, or a brain tumor. If you are experiencing pain that you think may be related to positional headache, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any serious underlying causes.

Cough headache

Cough headaches are a rare headache disorder during which you develop a sudden headache when bending over or coughing, sneezing, laughing, crying, straining to have a bowel movement, or blowing your nose. There are primary cough headaches, caused by unknown factors, and secondary cough headaches, caused by structural problems in the brain. Primary cough headaches are considered harmless and go away on their own, while secondary cough headaches may require surgical intervention to treat.

If you’re experiencing a primary cough headache, it could feel like sudden stabbing or splitting sharp pain on the sides or the back of the head. The pain is usually intermittent, and begins immediately after a cough, sneeze, strain, or other body movement and lasts only a short time. These initial symptoms are often followed by a dull aching pain that lasts a few hours. Drinking water will often help relieve your pain.

If you’re experiencing a secondary cough headache, your symptoms may be similar, but the pain occurs more frequently and lasts longer. You may also experience blurred vision, feeling unsteady on your feet, or dizziness. If you are experiencing any secondary cough headache symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any underlying structural issues with your brain that could be causing your headache pain.

If you are experiencing headache and cough, as well as high fever, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath, call your doctor or 911 to discuss your symptoms. You may be suffering from coronavirus (COVID-19) or another medical condition that requires immediate medical attention.

How Do I Treat a Headache from Bending Over?

Because different kinds of headaches require different therapies, treating your headache will largely depend on identifying the kind of pain you are suffering from. If you are suffering from a mild or occasional headache, there are a few at-home remedies and practices that may help mitigate your pain and alleviate your suffering.

  • Rest in a quiet, dark room
  • Drink water
  • Place a heating pad or cold compress on your head and neck
  • Drink a hot, caffeinated beverage like coffee or tea
  • Take a moderate dose of an over-the-counter medication like aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen

There are also lifestyle changes that you can make to help reduce your chances of developing a headache.

  • Get at least eight hours of sleep every night
  • Exercise regularly
  • Seek out stress-reduction techniques like acupuncture and massage therapy
  • Improve your posture
  • Avoid eye strain and get your vision checked regularly

If your pain worsens despite at-home treatments, you are experiencing a headache after hitting your head, or if you are experiencing a headache that is accompanied by any of the following you may be suffering from an acute medical condition that requires treatment:

Risks and Related Conditions

Certain people are more likely than others to develop headaches. You may be more likely to develop specific types of headaches depending on certain conditions:

  • Migraines: You have a family history, are a woman, are younger than 40, smoke, or you suffer from depression or anxiety
  • Sinus headache: You experience allergies, are prone to upper respiratory and ear infections, have cystic fibrosis or nasal polyps, or have had prior nasal surgery
  • Positional headache: You have undergone spinal surgery, have Chiari malformations, polycystic kidney disease, or have tumors or cysts in the brain, neck, or spine
  • Primary cough headache: You are older than 40 and male
  • Secondary cough headache: You are younger than 40 or have a defect in the shape of your skull
  • Dehydration headache: You are experiencing dehydration

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When to See a Doctor

Headaches are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. Most will go away on their own with over-the-counter medications or home remedies. For some, headaches can be a signal that you are suffering from an underlying medical condition that needs treatment. If your headache is new or unusual, lasts longer than normal, or is not improved with pain medication, chat with your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

If your headache is accompanied by a high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, vision problems, weakness in your muscles, confusion, a change in your mental state, seizures, or it can’t be explained, you may be suffering from an acute medical condition that requires immediate treatment. In those instances, seek medical attention right away.

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Chris Bodle, MD

Dr. Bodle is a board certified emergency medicine physician. He received his medical degree from Indiana University School of Medicine, and completed his residency in emergency medicine at Emory University. In addition to K Health, he currently works as an Emergency Medicine physician in an Urban, Level 1 Trauma Center in the south east.

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