A post-traumatic headache is a common symptom following injury or trauma to the head and neck.
Head and Neck
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Post-traumatic headache occurs after a trauma to the head and neck. The headache may be caused by: Blood or fluid buildup inside the skullChanges in the brain caused by the injuryNeck and skull injuries that are still healingTension and stress
There are different types of headaches. Common post-traumatic headache types include: Tension headaches due to muscle tension or spasms and stressMigraine headaches due to a sensitive area in the brain that triggers a pain signalCervicogenic headaches due to injury to the muscles and soft tissuesRebound headaches from medications used to treat headaches
The headache may also include psychiatric, behavioral, or social factors.
Your chance of a getting a post-traumatic headache is increased if you have had a history of head injuries.
A post-traumatic headache may occur right after the injury or as the injury is healing. Symptoms may include: Head pain—symptoms depend on the cause of the headacheNausea or vomitingLight and sound sensitivityVisual problems such as seeing spots or bright lightsPain that occurs at the end of the dayPain that starts in the neck, shoulders, and back of the head Pain with neck movementLightheadednessDifficulty sleepingProblems concentratingMood and personality changes
You will be asked about your symptoms, medical history, and any recent injuries. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is based on the exam and history. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system if the headache persists, there are changes on the exam, or it is severe.
You will also be asked about the frequency and pattern of your headaches. To help provide answers, you may consider keeping a diary of: When your headaches start and endWhat you were doing at the timeWhat you tried to relieve the painAny other symptoms you had with your headache
Images may be taken of your brain, head, and neck to look for signs of injury. This can be done with: CT scanMRI scan
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Your doctor may advise medications to help manage pain. Medication options may include: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxenOver-the-counter medications for migrainesPrescription pain medicationMuscle relaxantsAnti-anxiety medication—rarely
Head and neck injuries can take some time to heal. It is important to follow your doctor’s advice and adjust activities as needed. Complete rest is rarely needed.
Other home care steps may include ice and massage.
Stress-reduction techniques and stress-management techniques may also help decrease or manage pain.
To help reduce your chance of getting a head and neck injury, take these steps: Wear a helmet during certain activities (such as riding a bike or motorcycle, playing a contact sport, using skates, scooters, or skateboards, riding a horse, skiing or snowboarding). Reduce falling hazards at home. Always wear a seat belt in motor vehicles. Never drink and drive. Avoid using sedatives, especially when driving.
Finkel A. Concussion and post-traumatic headache. American Headache Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheadachesociety.org/assets/1/7/Alan_Finkel_-_Concussion_and_PTH.pdf. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 22, 2013. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Headaches after head injuries—post-traumatic headaches. Brainline.org website. Available at: http://www.brainline.org/content/2008/12/headaches-after-head-injuries-8212-post-traumatic-headaches.html. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Headaches after traumatic brain injury. Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center website. Available at: http://www.msktc.org/tbi/factsheets/Headaches-After-Traumatic-Brain-Injury. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Lane JC, Arciniegas DB. Post-traumatic headache. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2002 Jan;4(1):89-104.
Lenaerts ME, Couch JR. Posttraumatic headache. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2004;6:507-517.
Marcus DA. Disability and chronic post-traumatic headache. Headache: Journal of Head & Face Pain. 2003;43:117-121.
Post-traumatic headache. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/education/Headache_Topic_Sheets/Post_Traumatic_Headache. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Sheedy J, Harvey E, et al. Emergency department assessment of mild traumatic brain injury and the prediction of post-concussive symptoms in a 3-month prospective study. J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2009;24(5):333-343.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.