Headaches After Head Injuries — Post-Traumatic Headaches

Seymour Solomon, MD, Headache Unit, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Headaches After Head Injuries — Post-Traumatic Headaches

Headache immediately following a head injury usually clears after minutes or days but sometimes headaches may persist for months or rarely years. The long-term headaches are called post-traumatic or post-concussion headaches.

One can understand why headaches may follow a moderate or severe injury to the brain such as a concussion (bruise) or laceration (tear). What has been more difficult to understand and has presented an ongoing controversy are chronic headaches following mild head injuries.

Mild injuries of the brain are characterized as a concussion (a brief disturbance of brain function causing loss of consciousness or transient difficulty in thought processes).

Because the neurological examination after mild head injury is normal and standard tests as well as imaging studies (such as MRI or CT of the head) similarly fail to reveal abnormalities, many thought that the symptoms following mild head injury were psychological.

But microscopic studies have shown disruption of the nerve fibers in the brain due to the stretching or shearing forces of the trauma. Other subtle changes have been noted in brain functioning.

The clinical features of post traumatic headache may vary from one individual to another. Most headaches would be now classified as chronic tension-type headache. These headaches are typically a steady ache affecting both sides of the head and occurring daily or almost everyday. They are of slight to moderate intensity but intermittently, upon this base of low grade headache bouts of severe or moderately severe headache may occur and these often are similar to, if not identical with migraine (one sided throbbing pain associated with nausea and sensitivity to light and noise).

Unfortunately, people who experience post traumatic headaches also experience other symptoms of the post-traumatic or post-concussion syndrome. There may be other neurological symptoms such as dizziness, ringing in the ears, vague blurring of vision, psychological symptoms occur such as depression, anxiety, personality change, disturbance in sleep, and impairment libido.

Finally, people with the post-concussion syndrome have changes in their mental functioning, primarily difficulty in concentration, inability to work efficiently and associated difficulty maintaining attention and retaining memory.

The treatment of post-traumatic headache, as well as other features of the post-traumatic syndrome is symptomatic. That is each symptom is treated individually because, unfortunately, there is no medication that will alter the underlying disturbance in the brain.

Most often treatment of the chronic tension-type headache consists of such medications as the tricyclic antidepressants (for example amitriptyline). These agents not only diminish depression but also decrease pain.

The periodic worsening of headaches, if they have characteristics of migraine, are treated with typical migraine medications (for example, sumatriptan for an acute attack).

Non-drug methods of therapy are also advisable. Healthy habits should be encouraged by elimination of nicotine and alcohol, by recommendations for regularity with regard to sleep and meal time and by exercise at least every other day. Relaxation techniques may be helpful. These can be learned by biofeedback techniques as well as by such methods as meditation.

Last but not least is attention to psychological factors. The family, friends, and employer or teacher should be educated so the fact that headaches are not purely psychological but have a basis related to the disturbed structure and chemical functions of the brain. A psychologist may be helpful in teaching pain coping techniques and in treating the psychological symptoms that are part of the post-traumatic syndrome.

Fortunately, most headaches following head injury gradually taper off within the first three to six months. Even those unfortunate individuals who experience symptoms much longer can be helped.

Posted on BrainLine December 15, 2008. Reviewed August 9, 2018.

From Help for Headaches. www.headache-help.org.

Comments (399)

I was hit in the head with a softball on my forehead right above my eyebrow (left side) on July 6, 2018. I had a concussion and bone bruising. I am still getting headaches 8 months later and swelling/pain from the bone bruise. Everyone keeps telling me I should be healed by now, but I am not. My headaches are not as frequent and not as painful, but I never had headaches on this spot in my head before I got hit. So, I know it is because of the concussion. The left side of my head still feels different than the right side. It is frustrating because I want to feel normal again. It makes it more frustrating to feel like people don't believe me when I say I am not completely healed yet.

I had a pretty bad concussion from playing soccer when I was in highschool. I probably went back too early to play as well. I experienced nasty headaches on and off and loss of concentration and emotional flooding. In college, I experienced some of the worst headaches of my life and they were in the same spot that my concussion happened. Well 10 years later, I still experience headaches in the region of my concussion, and while they aren't as bad as before, they can still be frustrating and take a lot out of me.

I fell backwards while sitting on a wobbly chair and hit the back of my head against the edge of tv stand... I had a concussion and was barfing all night with a severe headache.... I didn’t go to the hostpital or see my family doctor.... it’s been over 5 years and if I do anything to my head I will get really bad headaches like a migraine that will come and go, for example, I was going sliding with the kids, and I just hit a couple big bumps, now my head hurts :/ or if I were to head bang to metal music, my head can’t handle it either.... it’s feels like i brought back my concussion... I’m struggling... my boyfriend said that im pathetic... I don’t want to be like this anymore :’(

I had a concussion 3 years ago. There have been several times that my head has been jarred and I get a horrible headache almost immediately, nauseous and sensitive to light and sound. It's almost like the migraines I used to have. I feel your pain.

I understand your pain! I fell from a ladder and fractured my lower back; hit and lacerated the right side back of my head on a concete block in 2007. I passed out and was taken to the hospital but released that same day. I had severe dizziness, profound taste disphoria, vertigo with certain head movements and I still in 2019 get sharp localized pain at the injury site almost daily. I still at odd time get bouts of vertigo for no apparent reason. I had to seek disability for the back injury but the head trauma was just as debilitating!

Your boyfriend doesn’t know pain period. he has not a hint of what post concussion syndrome is like

6 months ago I had a concussion but when the symptoms were almost gone I drank A LOT of alcohol on it. I have paid for this every day since, so no need to lecture. I now know as well as anybody how bad alcohol is for a concussion. My headaches have been constant, severe and I never get relief. I am posting this because I cannot find any similar stories. If anyone knows someone who this happened to or if it happened to you, please share. I am feeling hopeless. Is this permanent? Will the constant headaches EVER stop? It is affecting every aspect of my life tremendously and I am a shell of who I once was. PLEASE respond if you know anything.

Have you ever tried acupuncture and or chiropractic care specializing in concussions?

I have experienced almost the same thing, but I’m not an adult, and even if I were, I wouldn’t drink. I had a concussion eight months ago, and the headaches only started at the beginning of January. I find that doing relaxing things help with my headaches. I draw and shade dragons. I was doing that all day yesterday, and no headaches came on. So try doing relaxing things. Also, try to avoid loud noises. On the days I have band, I always have those flashes of pain. I hope this helped you

Hi, I've had concussion symptoms for 17 months. I drank a lot two days after a seemingly mild concussion and have had a persistent headache, among other things, ever since.

Honestly, I just wanted to say that one of the keys I have found to keep my headaches from bugging me is finding something in each day that I liked. I have had four concussions and even though I have had a lot of doctors and people around me who did not support me much or tell me what was going on and it drove me crazy for awhile I eventually found my peace. After my last concussion, I thought all hope was gone and that I would have headaches and pain forever. Now I still have them but when I do I go to someplace that I find comforting and lay there or even take a power nap. I don't know if this will be helpful at all to you but this is just my experience. It has been a couple years from my last concussion but I think I can honestly say for the first time that I am okay. You will be too. just find what makes you happy and hold onto that. What you believe affects you greatly. If you believe in yourself and that you have the courage to get through it then you can. Keep fighting and do only what you can. Don't try so hard that you end up just hurting yourself in the end.

i fell and hit the back of my head on a wall and 5 years later the back of my head feels really weird to touch and i cant sleep on the it and i have constant headaches like every other day and i think they're migraines. i went and got an MRI and there was nothing wrong. the doctor said it was probably post traumtic headache and did nothing.

I suffered a concussion several years ago when I fell back full force on the back of my head on the concrete. Now whenever my allergies act up, that area where I hit my head is extremely sore, like the day I hit it almost. Why is that?

I understand. Same here. I take antioxidants. This really helps.

I suffered a fall in March 2018, falling on my left brow, resulting in a large goose egg on my left forehead and then a black eye. Went to the hospital emergency immediately after - I did not lose consciousness, I remembered what happened and did not suffer from headache at the time - they suggested that I likely didn't fracture as the bone above the eye is pretty strong. The swelling and bruising healed and in about June I started to feel not quite right. I felt weakness and would sleep very deeply although when I awoke I did not feel rested. I started to feel pressure behind my nose which would bother me at night. I had nose irritation and sometimes could feel my heart pounding in the roof of my mouth. I have lost some sense of smell and my sinuses feel like they are not draining properly - I have congestion although the mucous is clear and I have post nasal drip but my nostrils are dry. My doctor did blood tests, sent me for a CT scan and MRI which appeared normal - showing no sign of sinus infection either. The pressure in my head is constant now and it prevents me from getting a restful sleep. I am at wits end. I am waiting for an appointment with an ENT (2 months away!) and I don't know how I am going to last. I have tried everything - neti pot, holding my head over steam, nasal spray with cortisone, decongestants, etc. Could this be related to my fall or is it a sinus issue?

I did this 10 years ago, fell 11 feet ,broke fall with my forehead on concrete, and since then i get terrible headaches , pressure. My Ent said it was because the brain hit the forehead inside bones..where sinuses are. When the weather changes, harder to breathe and my back of head feels like strained muscles. Yes it is related to your injury. My headaches are weird. I lost the taste of salt and smell. Salt is a huge problem when cooking... Best to you!

I am not a doctor but it appears that your symptoms are very close to what I experienced years ago when I was diagnosed with a craniopharyngioma. It was centered directly behind my nose on my pituitary. After ten diagnoses and many doctors, at least 2 years of severe pain in my head and after gaining an enormous amount of weight (from 140lbs to 198 lbs) for no reasonable reason. I happened to see an ear, nose and throat doctor who told me that I should get a CT Scan as I might have a pituitary tumor. I went to M.D. in Houston, TX, and saw a doctor in the Brain center area. He extracted the tumor and I had to follow it up with six weeks of radiation. Now I see an endocrine specialist who checks my prolactin level as well as other functions. Apparently, prolactin levels indicate if the tumor is back. Also, the tumor was benign but still threatened to obstruct other areas of my brain. I recognize that you have had a CT scan and an MRI, but perhaps the right person didn't know what to look for. I would recommend that you see a brain specialist, redo the CT scan with and without contrast, and mention to them that you suspect a pituitary tumor such as a craniopharyngioma or... Believe me, I understand the pain you are going through. After a life free of aspirin or any pain killers, I couldn't swallow enough Tylenol or Advil to change the pain I felt in my brain. It's important that you see a brain doctor who understands pituitary tumors and such. Any other doctor only knows about their area and won't look for a brain tumor. I hope this helps and I wish you all the best.

I have continued pain from a fall which caused me To hit the left rear of head was unconscious and required sutures to the wound

Hello Marnie! I was searching the internet to see if anyone else is suffering from this kind of facial/sinus pressure post concussion. I hit the closing edge of an automatic door, hard enough to have a laceration over my right eyebrow, in October 2018. In addition, the other edge of the door hit directly between my nose and right eye. I’ve since had clear drainage in my right nostril and down the back of my throat and facial pressure with clamping head pain. In the first couple of months, I also experienced numbness and tingling around my mouth, top of my pallet and at the top of the back of my throat. That has resolved, however, the headaches and pressure have not. I went to an ENT and he thought it unlikely that I would have a CSF leak, but agreed to test my clear nasal discharge. I could not get enough fluid to test. I’ve had 3 CT scans and now am going for an MRI with and without contrast. I’ll let you know if I find out anything after that. I do use a hot washcloth over my eyes when I lay down to go to sleep. I’m at least able to fall asleep when I do. I’m sorry for your frustration, I know exactly how you feel.

It might be unrelated to your concussion, I had similar sinus problems that I could not get diagnosed after multiple doctor visits. It ended up being a severe allergy to super glue (worked everyday with it), with a 20-hour delayed reaction, weird I know. Sneezing and pressure for 2 days after exposure, with nearly 6 months of unending sinus nightmare. Try to isloate some potential allergen in your life. New factory in your area of town? new detergent? new pet or aging pet (dander can change with pet age)? there are many strange and unsual things you can become allergic too and can drive your sinuses insane. I had problems for nearly 6 months before really figuring it out. Take a vacation and completely remove yourself from all possible allergens, just start trying to figure it out with process of elimination.

I use ice pack on my head and found it is helping for my head ache. I also take omega 3,6 and 9 capsule.

I had a TBI 27 years ago damaging front left temple, 2 fractures of the skull. Over the years my migraines are getting worse. I can have several in a week. Any help would be great. I've been on various tablets and had Botox.

I had TBI a year ago. The doctor recently prescribed Aimovig. Its an injection for migraines. They give it to me once a month. Try it.

Have you tried using medical marijuana? This helps tame mine down. TBI back 2014 with loss of consciousness greater than 24hrs

I fell down flight of steps 7 years ago and hit my right side of my head.
At the time no one seamed concerned about my head. I broke my arm and elbow.
I have had MRI a few of them all negative.
I have suffered they say post concussuin neuralgia.
When the weather changes i feel stinging. Wetness pain last for days.
This still causes me anxiety about it.
Wonder if anyone has experienced the same.

I'm 16, 2 months post injury. It feels like I have been through everything to help manage my pain, including; seeing a concussion specialist, chiropractor, neuropsychologist, psychiatrist, homeopathic chiropractor, seeing a CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), having an MRI, and CT scan, I've also had other testing. I've changed how I eat, how I sleep, I'm exercising more,and meditating/doing yoga. I also ended up in an inpatient psychiatric unit for a week after severely spiraling into a deep depression and it was obvious that my anti-depressents needed to be changed. I have a headache from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep. It increases and sometimes decreases throughout the day. Soon I will be going to a headache clinic. My injury has tuned my world upside down. I went from being a social butterfly, who excelled in school, and was into sports. Now I have very minimal energy, I have difficulties in school, and I'm not allowed to do my favorite sport, gymnastics. Medications don't work, some even make my head worse. I want to try CBD (since I've read about how it's helped a lot of people), but unfortunately I would have to have my parents approve. I'm so sorry for y'all who have been struggling way longer than I have. Bless your hearts.

I'm Isaac. I'm 18. I got in a severe motorcycle wreck sometime around my 17th birthday. Since then I have had persistent headaches from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. The wreck was bad enough that I have these clear fluids that drain from my ears and discharges into my throat from my nasal passageway. The doctor said it's gonna drain however long it takes to heal. It has also turned my life upside down.

The big thing tho is I found a good girl after my 18 birthday. A year later she knows all my problems. I laid them all out there, and she still loves me for me. That is the best medicine I could ask for

I had a fall at work 21 years ago while attempting to stand on a chair. During the attempt the chair tipped toward me and I went up and over hitting the floor head first. The impact was shared between my chin and right shin. I thought I came out unscathed. The physical therapist who witnessed the fall was amazed I was still breathing on my own. But I was able to jump up and walk away from it. A few weeks later I began having headaches but immediately at the time of the fall I noticed word-finding problems. It is now now years, decades, since that fall. I have had to go on disability and attempts to re-educate myself to go back to work have failed because of memory problems. I replied to your post because CBD oil did nothing for me.

I would say if you have tried everything else, then CBD is an option. If your parents are reluctant to allow you to try it, then you need to educate them as to all aspects of it. Do some research and find out other similar situations where it has been used beneficially. They need to understand that CBD is an extracted oil and not a hallucinogen. I have numerous medical issues from TBI to PN, Agent Orange Dioxin exposure, etc., etc. I know that if you do decide to try CBD, there may be mild side effects which can vary from person to person. What I did was to try a small dose for several days to find out if my system could tolerate it. Assuming it does, then you need to start with a high dose for several days or a week until you find that your symptoms begin to moderate or disappear. After you reach this saturation point, then you can gradually decrease dosage until you start to see symptoms again. At that point, increase slightly until you reach a comfortable zone. This stuff sort of builds up within you so that when you find your proper zone, then you simply try to maintain that level within you, but you can always increase or decrease slightly to tweak it to perfection. Dr. Sanjay Gupta (sp?) spoke on this stuff a couple years ago and stated impressive results for TBI related injuries and recoveries. It is sometimes available at health food stores and such, but to me seems rather pricey but also well worth it if it can help one recover from such injuries.

At least you are seeing specialists who hopefully can steer you in the right directions. In my case, I lost or suppressed memories directly related to an anchor chain incident where I was hit in the head but only recently started to remember key info related to the injury, after 47 years. I asked the VA to do an MRI of my head and they found that I have a small piece of my brain missing likely due to a severe untreated concussion. I was 18 or 19 then and am now 67. No wonder I have numerous short term memory problems and continuous headaches. Oh, Well -- do the best you can while you can. Wish you the best with this. You seem intelligent enough to work your way through though -- Good Luck!

I had blunt force trauma to the right front of my head. I still have severe headaches 9 yrs later. Sometimes headaches for days ..and into my eye.

In May 2018 I hit my head on the corner of cabinet door. Hurt really bad but figured I would live. Got a nice dent in my head to go with it. I was in the middle of dealing with skin cancer & more concerned with how much of my nose was going to be removed. Headaches continued but then from surgery on nose & seasonal allergies got a sinus infection. Chalked headaches up to what turned into 3 sinius infections over the next 4 months. Now Im over the infections I still have headaches (only on right dide-which is side of head hit), blurred vision, nausea&vomiting, sleep maybe 2hrs at a time, neck pain, can't remember peoples names (I know them just can't find name immeadiately). Spoke to Dr about it this week. Going for CT next week. Ive missed a lot of work & not sure how much I can tell them. So now lets add some stress! Im really worried.

I have had 7 confirmed concussions from playing Lacrosse, Hockey and Rugby as well as boxing for 13 years. I have severe migraines that make me throw up quite often. I recently have started using marijuana and it works wonders. It has been over a month since I've had a migraine. As I've said 7 have been confirmed most likely have had more. I have severe depression and anxiety as well as memory loss where I will forgot what I'm talking about mid sentence. It's sad because I'm only 30. I will be donating my brain. Hopefully they will eventually will beable to confirm CTE without it being cut open.

Had a work place accident 03/29/2018 were fell 9’ off a bucket truck , landing on my head . I was unconscious for 20 minutes and received a large laceration to my head. I still have major headaches and sharp pains to were the impact was! Pain meds don’t help physical therapy helps a bit for a day but not more then a day. Still have not been able to return to work . There are days helpless, they keep telling me it will get better, but there are days I can’t get out of dark room because of the pain.

2 yrs ago I fell off my steps in the winter time . Landed in my drive way hitting the side of my head . Still get aweful headaches

My sister had a accident in which she had no bleeding ( outer) but when she combs her hair, somebody hits lightly, if her hairs are pulled lightly etc. her head starts paining. Can i get any idea how this pain is occurring plz

I had my accident at work. It happened on 8/7/18. I'm 51 yrs old
Where I was hit on my head, neck, shoulders. My hair still is sensitive to wash and comb. I have the same problem of if I pull my hair up it gives me extra pain in my head where it's pulled up. I have to pull it up due to hot flashes and where I have PT. I will pray for you.

I am wondering if anyone else has a constant throbbing on top of their heads too. The only thing that helps me is an ice pack. If I try to lay down it increases extremely. I can only sleep propped up.

I have also been dealing with a post traumatic concussion. While researching, I came across an article that talked about finding the right vestibular therapist or neurologist who can identify where your headaches are actually originating from. Honestly, for both of you who are experiencing such top of the head sensitivity, I think it would be wise to ask you doctor about getting an MRI to rule out a hematoma. But, some of the people who were experiencing long lasting headaches, benefitted from having their pain pathway diagnosed. You may want to look at occipital nerve pathways and see if this pathway correlates to where you are experiencing your head/scalp pain. Good luck to both of you!

I got my 3rd concussion on may 29th 2018. For me it was headaches memory issues, cognitive issues, neck pain, eye pain and moodiness. Nothing was seeming to work. The chiropractor seemed to be the best in the begining. I found some research on hyberbaric oxygen therapy and decided to give it a shot. I dont know if its a placebo or if it actually works but my brain fog lifted and i started to feel halfway normal again. Insurance does not cover this of course so it can get quite pricey but it seems to have helped me. Im 5 months into this and finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. Im just hoping my memory comes back now.

I am 2.5 years out from my concussion. It sucks so many different pains in my head daily. I refuse meds instead I'm trying to eat paleo style and try to start walking more also gonna try cbc oil I've heard good things. Already tried chiropractors, nucca doctors, , vitamins, massage, sacral cranial therapy, accupuncture, physical therapy started to feel doomed :(

Please don't feel doomed. Our daughter is over 3 years out from her concussion. She has lived with an intractable migraine ever since. Our fight for her recovery is ongoing. She has tried all the items you listed and many, many more. Medications have been completely ineffective so far. If you don't have one already, please find a good doctor. One who is willing to keep trying even if the ideas are out of the box. Get a therapist who specializes in chronic pain. Seek out a support group. Going through this alone is not good. We do not have a cure or an answer for our daughter but we will not give up trying and I so hope you don't give up either.

I suffered a concussion in 2017, service elevator door came down on my head. its now a year later and still suffering. Head pain everyday, still have balance issues and memory. I have been going to therapy and now doing a series of tests. It is very hard to work for a full shift as I get tired quickly. I do take multi vitamins but not sure if they are doing anything. Rest helps but then affects my back. I feel every ones pain and understand completely, its hard to relay that to some one who has not suffered the same type of injury. I persevere and hope one day my pain will go away.

I was wandering if it was possible to get a concussion from a car door hitting your
head and causing a 2 inch laceration.

Thank you

Yes, it is definitely possible

As a teenager I was involved in a bike accident with a car and I was knocked out
For 40 minutes after suffering a serious concussion (TBI). I woke up in a
Hospital bed.
I feel that I am susceptible to a headache more having suffered a serious
Concussion. I don’t know if other people with a TBI have this, but
Sometimes I feel as if I have been hit over the head with a sharp
Hammer and feel a sharp intense pain that lasts only a short time. Then
Im ok again a minute or so later.
Some days it would be just a dull blunt headache that may last
A while and require medication.
At the hospital after the accident they did scans and x-rays and said i
Had not fractured my skull and had had a nasty bang on my head.
Now just the occasional headache but those short, sharp hammer blow
Headaches occasionally occur. Very strange.

I had blunt force trauma to my head 9 yrs ago I get sharp shooting pain and severe headaches to this day I take no meds for it.

Brenda I sympathize with your headaches. I have lots of pain relief medication for any potential headaches at home and always carry a packet of tablets with me all the time at work and when I go out.
The other thing is I avoid exposure to bright lights, especially sunlight, which can bring on a headache and so wear permanent transition lenses that block sunlight effectively by darkening like sunglasses.
There really good and have been helpful enormously. They go clear again at night of course. I also avoid noisy places which can give me a headache. You have to do what best suits you. All the best

I was diagnosed with a concussion Mar. 25, 2017 after I accidentally walked into a glass door. A neurologist put me on Topiramate and increased the dosage, but it still did not work. It was very hard on my stomach and I refused to take any more. Tried acupuncture and that did not work either. Then I received Botox injections, and it turned out I was allergic to Botox and suffered from swelling of the throat and choking. Couldn't eat solid food for 2 weeks. Still partly numb in my throat after 5 months. Botox decreased the frequency of the headaches for a while, but now after 5 months, I have headaches 3-5 days a week. Terrible pressure on my forehead. Not even 2 extra-strength Excedrin will dull it and is not worth the side effects. I think I'll try a chiropractor next.

Mine took 16 years remembering the traumatic injury. And I forgot every hallucinations I have had throughout childhood and adolescents.. The headaches were straight agony when they happened. Like a monkey wrench thrown into a a running engine. Throwing everything inside in disruption. Forgetting yesterday for years. Not being able to concentrate in school. I got so fixiated on music and what the theological twist inside cause I forgot my yesterday for years.

Wow, it's sad that there are so many people suffering as I do. It's been over a year now since my fall/accident on the job. I've shared here earlier this year. But going to Church I found a real doctor that showed me that CBD's really work, this is not advice, just a suggestion. I will share that this type of treatment for my headache/migraines has helped more than pharmaceutical medication. God bless

My concussion/TBI happened at work too. Almost 6 months horrible pain still.Do u think u get treated dif. At the doctor because of work comp?

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