A headache is the last thing a singer wants when they get off stage. Head pain can strike in the middle of a performance and can become excruciating under the glare of bright lights. Acting quick and identifying the source of pain can kill a headache before an audience even notices anything was wrong.
Exposure to bright lights and loud noises makes singers more susceptible to headaches. Lots of vocalists complain of headaches and light-headedness after singing. Singers don’t have to suffer in silence – there are headache remedies that won’t hinder your voice.
When you’re crippled by a headache, you want a cure and fast. The quickest way to fight off head pain is to identify the cause and take action. Knowing what type of headache you have will save you lots of time and pain.
Getting headaches from singing
There can be several causes of headaches after singing. The main ones are:
- You’re pushing your vocals and singing a song out of your comfortable range
- Poor breathing technique is causing pressure in your body and head
- Your muscles are tense while you sing
- You’re nervous about singing and this is making your body stressed
Headache from singing high notes
A really general rule during singing is that if it hurts, you’re doing something wrong. If you get a headache from performing high notes, your breathing technique or tension in your body might be to blame.
Singing high notes requires more air. If you don’t breathe from your diaphragm, you won’t get enough air into your system to fuel both your body and voice while you try to reach that higher register. This can cause you to run out of breath easily and makes you come over lightheaded or bring on a headache.
Pushing your voice too hard to reach a high note can also bring on a headache. If you strain your vocal cords while you sing, muscles in the larynx can put pressure on veins in the throat and this can stop blood flowing to your head properly.
Forehead tension when singing
A lot of singers tense their face while they sing without realising it. Holding tension in your forehead, jaw or eyes can cause muscle strain and this can lead to tension headaches.
One easy way to tell if you’re tensing your forehead is to look out for wrinkles. If your forehead creases while you sing or if your eyebrows lift, then you’re straining your facial muscles.
If you notice yourself squinting or a tight feeling behind your eyes, you’re also holding tension there too.
You can release tension in your head by giving yourself a scalp massage. Apparently forcing yourself to feel bored and pull a bored face can help stop you from tensing your face.
Types of headaches
You might’ve heard of migraines and headaches before, but there are actually lots of types of head pain. The different forms of headaches all feel different and are caused by different things. The most common types of headaches that singers suffer from include:
These headaches are usually brought on by physical activity and strenuous movement. This can include singing, especially if you’re up on-stage dancing and moving about. The symptoms of exertional headaches are:
- Moderate to severe pain
- A “throbbing” sensation in your forehead
- A headache across your entire head or just one side
These symptoms can kick in during or after physical activity and can be made worse in hot conditions.
Pressure headaches can also be called tension headaches, or stress headaches. They’re one of the most common types of head pain, and around 80% of adults get them from time to time. These are the signs to look out for:
- Dull pain or tightness
- Pain around your forehead or back of your head and neck
- Mild sensitivity to light or noise
- Inability to concentrate
These types of headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of days. They often start later in the day and come on gradually.
The causes of migraines aren’t completely understood, but they tend to be recurrent and happen more frequently in females than males. A migraine can be triggered by bright lights and loud noise, making singers more susceptible to them when they’re on stage. Symptoms of migraines include:
- Intense throbbing on one side of the head
- Pins and needles
- Visual disturbances like seeing flickering spots
- Sensitivity to light, smell, and sound
- Nausea and vomiting
Blocked sinuses can wreak havoc for your singing voice. Whether it’s a cold or allergies blocking your nose, the congestion in your sinuses can also cause a headache. You can tell you have a sinus headache if you experience:
- A feeling of fullness in your ears
- Throbbing head
- Pressure around your eyes, cheeks, and forehead
- A runny nose
Decongestants and antihistamines can help relieve a sinus headache, but singers should be wary of these as these can dry out your vocal cords.
Headache relief for singers
Your first instinct might be to reach for painkillers when you have a headache – but this can be counterproductive for singers. Aspirin and ibuprofen can dry out your vocal cords and affect your voice.
Try these remedies instead to fight a headache and keep your voice safe:
- Put an ice pack on your forehead
- Apply a heat pack to your neck or shoulders
- Drink water
- Try to eat something
- Apply lavender oil to your temples
- Massage your scalp
- Listen to soothing music
Does singing help headaches?
Singing is really good for your health and mental wellbeing. Music can actually help ease the pain of headaches and migraines too.
Famous country singer Johnny Cash suffered from chronic migraines but used singing as a way of soothing the pain. His niece Kelly Leigh, who’s also a professional country singer, says her life was ruined by chronic headaches but her singing career “took the focus off her pain, comforted her, and eased her suffering.”
The vibrations created by singing can help soothe and dissipate headaches. But if you don’t feel up to singing at the time, listening to gentle, soft music can also help alleviate a headache too.
How to perform with a headache
Headache remedies can sometimes take a while to kick in. That’s no use if you’re literally just about to get on stage, or if you’re already in the middle of a show. To keep performing at your best when you feel lightheaded, give these tips a go:
- Start your set with well-practiced, soft songs – avoiding high notes and high tempo songs at the start of your gig will give your head a chance to recover and gradually warm up your vocal cords.
- Bend your knees and shifting your weight – if you stand in the same position for too long, your knees will lock and this can cut off blow flow.
- Keep hydrated – always have some water on hand to drink between songs or sets.
- Keep your blood sugar up – you can’t really do this in the middle of a show, but eating something small before you go on stage will help your body fight off a headache.
- Avoid bright, flashing lights – these will only play havoc with your head and worsen a headache or dizziness.
If you suffer from headaches a lot and are looking for a long–term way to prevent them, you might need to take a look at your singing technique. Singing in your head voice can cause a headache to come on if you don’t do it properly.
Your head voice is the higher part of your singing voice. You use it to hit high notes. When singing in your head voice, you’ll be able to feel vibrations in your head or skull. This voice doesn’t come as naturally as your chest voice and requires more airflow and controlled breathing.
If you don’t use a good breathing technique when trying to hit high notes, you can strain your vocal cords and induce a headache too. This can be easily be resolved by warming up before you sing, and always breathing from your diaphragm.
Check out this video to see whether you’re using the right breathing technique when you sing in head voice.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why do I feel dizzy when I sing?
If you feel dizzy when you sing, it’s most likely due to stress to your vocal cords. Straining your voice when you sing can cause tension in your larynx, and this can hinder your breathing and restrict airflow to your brain. Not getting enough oxygen around your body will cause headaches and even dizziness.
- Can I pass out from singing?
When you sing, you use up a lot of air. Your breath can be used up by your voice instead of supplying your body and lungs, and this can make you feel weak, lightheaded and potentially make you faint.
This only happens in extreme situations and isn’t something singers should worry about during day-to-day performances. Passing out is made more likely by hot conditions, dehydration, and nerves, so make sure you’re feeling your best before you get up on stage.
Do you have any tips or advice for dealing with a headache? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!