Managing Headaches After Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
Ask the Expert: Worsening Headaches After TBI

This patient fact sheet focuses on non-drug options to help you manage your headaches.

Basics

  • Headaches are the most common symptom following a concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury
  • You may have new headaches, or a worsening of headaches you had before your concussion
  • Most people recover quickly from post-traumatic headaches
  • Consult with your health care provider to determine the cause of your headache, and to make a plan for treatment

Headache Triggers

Although each headache is different, identifying common causes (triggers) is important to help you and your provider manage your headaches. Check off any triggers in this list that seem to come before your headache starts:

  • Too much sleep
  • Too little sleep
  • Too much caffeine
  • Missing meals
  • Muscle tension
  • Bright light
  • Loud noise
  • Warm room temperature
  • Emotional stress (anxiety)
  • Alcohol
  • Certain foods
  • Medicines
  • Physical activities
  • Sexual activity
  • Straining or coughing
  • Bending over
  • Weather changes
  • Menstrual cycle

Non-Drug Treatments

Your health care provider may prescribe medicines to help relieve or prevent headaches, however there are many good non-drug options. If you are taking prescribed medications, continue to take them as directed by your health care provider. Discuss these non-drug treatment options with your health care team.

Issue What Can I Do?
Trouble sleeping
  • Remove TV, radio, smart phone, computers, etc., from the bedroom
  • Try to relax before bed: only use the bedroom for sleep or sex
  • Go to bed only when tired or sleepy
  • If you don’t fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool
  • Get up the same time every day and avoid naps
  • Try to spend time outside in the sun every morning
  • Avoid caffeine/stimulants 6 hours before bed
  • Exercise daily, but not close to bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, heavy meals and drinking too much of anything before bed
Dehydration,
Nutrition
  • Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water
  • Avoid skipping meals, eat a balanced diet
Tension,
Tight, Muscules,
Anxiety
  • Progressive muscle relaxation - focusing on relaxing one muscle group at a time
  • Biofeedback - learning to control body functions. This helps you focus on making subtle changes, such as relaxing certain muscles, to relax or to reduce pain (biofeedback usually requires a referral, so you should discuss this with your health care provider).

 

These therapies may require a referral from your provider

Recommendations Description Type of Provider
Physical therapy
  • Stretching and exercises
  • Ice, heat, or other therapeutic modalities
  • Therapeutic massage of the head and neck areas
Rehabilitation medical provider
Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Ways to evaluate situations and your response; includes relaxation and breathing techniques
Mental health provider
Accupuncture
  • Using needles, heat and pressure according to timehonored Chinese practices to reduce pain
Acupuncturist

 

A headache diary can help you remember information to share with your health provider.

Date What makes my headache worse? What makes my headache better? What time did my headache start? How long did my headache last?
         
         

 

Smartphone App

Concussion Coach is a mobile app for anyone with symptoms of a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). This app is intended to support face-to-face treatment with a health care provider and provides portable, convenient tools for the patient to assess symptoms and cope with TBI-related problems. It is not intended to replace professional diagnosis, medical treatment, or rehabilitation therapies. (iOS only).

Posted on BrainLine March 29, 2016

Resources

Ask your health care team about additional treatment options and contact a DVBIC recovery support specialist for additional resources. Visit www.dvbic.dcoe.mil to find a specialist near you.

Do you have questions about this fact sheet? Feedback? Email info@dvbic.org.

DVBIC is proud to partner with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard on this product. This product is reviewed annually and current until superseded. Visit dvbic.dcoe.mil for the latest information. DVBIC is the TBI operational component of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

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