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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
During my last two workouts, I have gotten a terrible headache starting at the base of my skull and shooting up while bench pressing. I was using the Valsalva maneuver during the first attack and thought that there was a 50/50 chance I was going to drop dead from a CVA. The second time, I breathed a bit, which eased the pain. I am still doing linear progression, and the headaches started during the work sets. The headaches last about six hours, and even the day after, it feels like it might recur, if that makes any sense.

Do you have any suggestions for avoiding these headaches? The only consistent advice that I have been able to find online is to stop doing whatever is causing the headaches and/or breath more. The former is a last resort, and with respect to the latter, Rippetoe stands by the using the Valsalva maneuver. In any case, I need to do something.

Thanks in advance for any help.
 

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Khem-Adam
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I couldn't help but notice you didn't mention anything about having gotten medical advice.

If you haven't then go see a doctor, NOW!!!!! Stop asking for advice from Rip and a bunch of anonymous people online and talk to someone who either knows what's wrong or who can figure it out.

I went to the hospital recently after having dizziness and vertigo following workouts. I thought I had something wrong in my brain. It turned out to just be a bronchial infection that worked it's way into my head. Even thought all my problems were in my head the first thing they did was hook me to an EKG to check my heart to rule it out. Heart problems can lead to headache and a lot of other problems you wouldn't associate with a muscle in your chest. Then I had a CT scan. If this is something that you just developed, that means something has changed in your body, and not for the better.

You could have something simple wrong, or you could develop something that could kill you. You need to get checked out so you don't drop dead during a workout.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Point well taken. I do have a doctor's appointment scheduled, but am trying to be optimistic in that the results will be that I am not going to die in the immediate future. And I expect that his advice will be to be either breathe more or stop lifting. With this expectation, I am trying to get advice from people that may have suffered from this problem, which I understand to be fairly common.
 

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Khem-Adam
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Good. I'm glad you're going to a doctor. Yes getting headaches from exertion is common, but I've never gotten them to the extent you have. Exertion causes your blood pressure to rise and muscle starts taking more than their usual share of everything in your body, so you can feel light headed or have a headache. And I occasionally get a slight odd feeling in my head and even a light headache. Oddly enough, the bench press is the only thing that causes this. But I've never had anything to the extreme that you are having. Mine stop as soon as I stop exerting. And I've gotten checked out and I am now confident that it is just blood pressure from exertion. I've also noticed that my diet and nutrition leading up to my workouts has a direct affect on how I feel during and after. Are you just killing yourself on the bench? Are you dieting to lose weight by any chance? When I was trying to lose weight and didn't get my diet right, I'd feel real run down.
 

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...And I expect that his advice will be to be either breathe more or stop lifting. With this expectation, I am trying to get advice from people that may have suffered from this problem, which I understand to be fairly common.
Unfortunately, you're probably right that a MD is just going to tell you to quit doing that--"that" being holding your breath and/or trying to lift something heavy. Like SOI typed, you need to find out if you have something weird wrong with you that might make you fall over dead. Beyond that, I'd be reading all I could online. CrossFitters are great for subjects like this, and the following is a search of threads: http://board.crossfit.com/search.php?searchid=4335696 I'm sure there are threads at Rip's also.

Are you new to valsalva, by chance? It might just take some adapting. Last year, when I started lifting again after my hernia repair, I had some very weird sensations in my head and eyeballs. They went away after a month or two. Are you getting this same feeling when doing squat and DL? How 'bout bentover rows? That one gives me the worst issues like this, by a long shot--always has and I suspect they always will. I've never had a headache like you describe, though. Closest thing would be when I ran track years ago. I remember getting terrible headaches every now and then after running the 400 m. Probably because that's the closest to a near-death experience I've had, LOL.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
I am trying to increase the quality of my diet (less fried foods, more veggies, etc.), which has probably resulted in a decrease in calories despite my efforts to the contrary. Also, the workouts when this happened occurred in the evening before dinner as opposed to my general workout time, in the morning after a banana, some milk, and almonds. So there may be a dietary/timing component to this. And I am lifting pretty close to my absolute max, at least for BP.

The Valsalva maneuver is not new to me, so it scared the **** out of me when I got the first headache. All other lifts irritated the headache after it started, but I am pretty confident that it wouldn't have been a problem without the bench. The lifts didn't make it much worse, but just made it hard to stay on pace.

I am going to take a break, eat big, and try again Sunday. If things go bad then, even for a repetition, I will wait for the doctor to let me know whether I will or will not die imminently.

Here I thought a ruptured lumbar disc was my biggest lifting problem. :rofl:

I do appreciate the advice.
 

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It's surprisingly difficult, and expensive, to eat as many calories as someone needs to get stronger while eating foods that aren't garbage.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
For those that might be curious, I ended up in the ER on the advice of a doctor friend, and after some blood work, a CT scan, and a lumbar puncture, I am pleased to report that whatever is wrong doesn't seem to be something that is going to kill me.

I am cleared to start exercise again once I feel better from the LP and am hoping that things get better with some changes (more calories, different workout time, more warm up, etc.). Thanks for the advice!
 

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Lumbar punctures aren't bad. Relax and drink a lot of fluids tonight, you'll be back doing whatever you want tomorrow.
 

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NRA4EVR
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Don't see any old MD. See a younger doctor who is up-to-date, preferably a sports medicine specialist. If he isn't familiar with the Valsalva maneuver and the reason for it, you'll be wasting your money and time going to him.
 

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If you've got a local college football team, find out who they send players to. That might get you further.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
Lumbar punctures aren't bad. Relax and drink a lot of fluids tonight, you'll be back doing whatever you want tomorrow.
I wish that was the case. I had the LP Monday and felt fine, relatively speaking, but Tuesday and today were bad. After lots of caffeine today, I am finally feeling better.

I do have appointments with two younger docs, one an internal medicine specialist and a neurologist at Georgetown. The ER attending was a lifter, at least casually, and encouraged the Valsalva maneuver. That was encouraging, but given the situation, he wasn't able to offer any definitive cause. But finding out I wasn't bleeding into my skull was helpful input.
 

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I wish that was the case. I had the LP Monday and felt fine, relatively speaking, but Tuesday and today were bad. After lots of caffeine today, I am finally feeling better.
Weird. I've had two punctures, and spent the evening after with a monster headache, but was always fine the next day. Caffeine helps, though.

I do have appointments with two younger docs, one an internal medicine specialist and a neurologist at Georgetown. The ER attending was a lifter, at least casually, and encouraged the Valsalva maneuver. That was encouraging, but given the situation, he wasn't able to offer any definitive cause. But finding out I wasn't bleeding into my skull was helpful input.
It's always good to not bleed into your skull if you can avoid it.
 

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I think I had the same thing back in 2005. My vision was doubling for the first time and the ER MD thought I was having a nerdism. CT scan first, then spinal tap. No pain afterward, though.
 

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Knicker Knotter
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During my last two workouts, I have gotten a terrible headache starting at the base of my skull and shooting up while bench pressing. I was using the Valsalva maneuver during the first attack and thought that there was a 50/50 chance I was going to drop dead from a CVA. The second time, I breathed a bit, which eased the pain. I am still doing linear progression, and the headaches started during the work sets. The headaches last about six hours, and even the day after, it feels like it might recur, if that makes any sense.

Do you have any suggestions for avoiding these headaches? The only consistent advice that I have been able to find online is to stop doing whatever is causing the headaches and/or breath more. The former is a last resort, and with respect to the latter, Rippetoe stands by the using the Valsalva maneuver. In any case, I need to do something.

Thanks in advance for any help.
I do not understand how the "valsalva manuever" is involved in weight lifting, but I do know how it relates to SCUBA diving and I can tell you this: if you are holding your breath and building up CO2 you'll develop a headache of (almost) unbelievable intensity.
 

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NRA4EVR
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I do not understand how the "valsalva manuever" is involved in weight lifting,
When lifting a near-maximal weight or heavier, it really helps a lot to inhale and push out hard against the walls of the torso without exhaling. It increases stability by tightening up the torso muscles, especially the abdominals. It helps with benching by raising the chest and shortening the distance the bar has to travel, as well as making the body more rigid and thus more stable. If you exhale as you reach the top of a bench press, your chest will sink, shoulder girdle will loosen and move and the path of the bar will change. If you exhale while squatting, the same thing happens. The chest lowers, the shoulders round out forward and down, the back, especially the upper back, loosens and loses the arch, the bar travels forward and if it's a really heavy weight, so will the lifter. If you are around powerlifters often, you will hear them exhorting the lifter to "stay tight!" all the time.
 

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Knicker Knotter
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When lifting a near-maximal weight or heavier, it really helps a lot to inhale and push out hard against the walls of the torso without exhaling. It increases stability by tightening up the torso muscles, especially the abdominals. It helps with benching by raising the chest and shortening the distance the bar has to travel, as well as making the body more rigid and thus more stable. If you exhale as you reach the top of a bench press, your chest will sink, shoulder girdle will loosen and move and the path of the bar will change. If you exhale while squatting, the same thing happens. The chest lowers, the shoulders round out forward and down, the back, especially the upper back, loosens and loses the arch, the bar travels forward and if it's a really heavy weight, so will the lifter. If you are around powerlifters often, you will hear them exhorting the lifter to "stay tight!" all the time.
Ah, I understand. Still, all that breath holding can cause CO2 buildup. Bad headache.
 

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For those that might be curious, I ended up in the ER on the advice of a doctor friend, and after some blood work, a CT scan, and a lumbar puncture, I am pleased to report that whatever is wrong doesn't seem to be something that is going to kill me.

I am cleared to start exercise again once I feel better from the LP and am hoping that things get better with some changes (more calories, different workout time, more warm up, etc.). Thanks for the advice!
Good to go!!! Glad to see it was nothing...

My mother is still in the Hospital trying to recover from a terrible stroke last Monday... My sister said she had been complainig about headaches that sounded simmilar for a few days before... Glad thats not what it was...
 

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Ah, I understand. Still, all that breath holding can cause CO2 buildup. Bad headache.
The whole thing only lasts the duration of the rep. Not even a whole second in the vast majority of circumstances.

Think of it like you're getting ready to push a stalled car out of the road. Generally, the first thing you do is take a big gulp of air, then you dig in against the weight of the car and push. That's the valsalva maneuver at work. All it does is, as ateamer described, tighten the trunk against the weight it's working against.
 
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