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Traumatic Brain Injury and Headaches

Robert Karns

A headache is a common result of traumatic brain injury and is known as a post-traumatic headache. The same trauma can cause both injuries. The frequency and severity of the post-traumatic headaches can diminish with the passage of time. However, just like traumatic brain injury can become persistent with continuing symptoms, post-traumatic headaches can also persist for years.

There are various causes for the post-traumatic headaches after trauma including muscle contraction when the muscles of the neck and scalp contract due to the injury and muscle spasm causing these post-traumatic headaches. Another type of post-traumatic headache is characterized by vascular changes that give rise to vascular post-traumatic headaches that can pulsate.

Traumatic brain injury gives rise to multiple symptoms including memory loss, fatigue, visual disturbances, poor attention and concentration, sleep disturbances, dizziness, irritability, and emotional disturbances, depression, and headaches. These post-traumatic headaches are not only painful and disruptive but also generate anxiety, fear, and resentment causing emotional reactions creating psychological factors as well as pain factors.

The headache pain can occur multiple times each day and often times will force the traumatic brain injured victim to have to lie down. The psychological symptoms brought on by the headaches can cause the feeling of being overwhelmed, anxious and can cause depression.

There are various methods to treat post-traumatic headaches that should be discussed with your treating physician. Some of these methods include non-narcotic analgesics, short-term use of tranquilizers or antidepressants for the emotional reactions or psychological symptoms along with other types of medications your physician might recommend. In addition, often times physical therapy or manipulative medicine may help especially with muscle spasms causing headaches. Also, pain management physicians can help with the symptoms and pain caused by the headaches by utilizing injections such as cervical area trigger point injections or occipital block injections directly into the occipital nerve at the base of the skull.

Headaches are a very common symptom of traumatic brain injury and come in many types such as tension headaches, neurovascular headaches, cervicogenic headaches, musculoskeletal headaches, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) headaches, and neurologic headaches.

These post-traumatic headaches can start directly after a traumatic brain injury or there can be a delay between the traumatic brain injury and the post-traumatic headaches. Traumatic brain injury victims suffering post-traumatic headaches should describe very fully and accurately to their treating physician what the headache feels like, how the headache starts, where the headache hurts, how long the headache lasts, what makes the headache worse and what makes the headache less or better.


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