Tips for runners with sinusitis

Whether a repeat or long-term sufferer, or this is a one off, the good news is that exercise can help

Q: Any running tips for a sinusitis sufferer? I am enjoying the outdoor runs (C25K) at night with a friend, but my sinuses are flaring up from the cold even when I wear a thinsulate hat. Cheers! Lorraine

A: What a pain in the . . . nose. I had sinusitis once and was in agony; it stopped me from running completely, so hats off to you for persisting with your runs despite the discomfort.

Our sinuses are lined with a thin membrane that produces mucus, ordinarily swept along by hair cells and drained through a small opening into the nasal cavity. Sinusitis (also called rhinosinusitis) starts when this drainage system gets blocked, usually from swelling or inflammation caused by an infection or allergy, like a cold, flu or hayfever. Your head starts to hurt, you feel pressure and/or pain in your face, and thick mucus clogs your nose. The symptoms may clear on their own but often persist or return repeatedly. I do hope it’s not persistent in your case Lorraine.

But whether you are a repeat or long-term sufferer, or this is a one off, the good news is that exercise can help. A stuffed nose is made worse from lying down because our sinuses don’t have gravity working with them to drain the blocked cavities so movement of any kind is key.


Cardiovascular exercise in particular helps, because the release of adrenaline makes our blood vessels contract which ought to reduce the swelling in your sinuses. The increase in circulation effectively alleviates the pressure on our sinuses which makes for easier breathing.

Yoga poses and breathing exercises can be good alternative treatments for sinus problems too because they can relax both body and mind, improve breathing and circulation and help the body heal. So if you fancy it and it's convenient, try and combine your runs with the odd yoga session and you might find running becomes more comfortable. is a great way to practise yoga anywhere and at anytime, because the lessons are all online. Sinus congestion is also loosened by increased temperature in the body's core, a corollary of exercise of any kind.

I couldn’t find any tips for helping with the problem while out running, so these suggestions are ways to relieve your symptoms before and after you runs.

1 – Irrigation: The market is flooded with nasal sprays, but research has shown simple saline irrigation is most effective at unclogging nasal passages, and reducing head pressure and facial pain. Fill a small teapot with a quarter teaspoon of non-iodized salt dissolved in eight ounces of warm water. Then tilt your head over the sink or bath, and insert the spout into the upward facing nostril. Allow the water to drain out of the other nostril, and then repeat the process on the opposite side. The solution thins the mucus, which helps eliminate it from the nasal passages.

2 – Face Massage: Take your thumb and index finger and apply pressure on either side of your nose and under your eyes. If you are doing it right and applying the correct amount of pressure, when you massage your fingers along the sinus area you should feel the sinus pressure shifting.

3 – Foot Freeze: Soak a pair of socks in ice water. After a hot shower or bath, squeeze out the excess water and put them on. This temperature shift pulls blood from the head to your feet in an attempt to warm them. This helps relieve congestion and can also soothe a headache. Something to look forward to after your next run when the rest of you is toasty warm? Come on, it's only a tiny bit gritty.

The combination of dry sinuses from the central heating and cold outdoor winter air doesn’t help. Christmas is particularly bad because our consumption of exotic fruits and foods leads to higher incidences of food allergies, aggravating sinuses everywhere. Plus, alcohol causes the skin inside your nose to swell. And all this carousing takes place beneath a moldy Christmas tree, or worse, a pine scented artificial one, guaranteed to needle the noses gathered round. Dusty decorations don’t help either, nor do artificial fragrances from scented candles, so give your home a once over to check if you’ve got any offending items or heavily scented stuff still floating about post Christmas. And while you’re at it, get stuck into an early spring clean.

There’s nothing more satisfying than getting so far ahead of the domestic curve . . . My top tip to stay sinus issue free is to avoid catching a cold at all, by getting enough sleep (with your head elevated) and rest; drinking plenty of water and eating well.

So you can keep on getting that daily dose of exercise.

The Grit Doctor says: If your sinus symptoms are upwards of your neck, run them out.

A real doctor would likely advise to exercise if your symptoms are above the neck, as with runny nose, nasal congestion or sore throat and don’t exercise if your symptoms are below the neck, as with chest condition, a frequent cough or an upset stomach. Wait to exercise if you have a fever, extreme fatigue or numerous muscle aches. Listen to your body and stop exercising and rest if your symptoms get worse. With this caveat always in mind, and assuming you don’t have any “below the neck symptoms”, do stick with those runs.