A post-traumatic headache is a common symptom following injury or trauma to the head and neck.
Post-traumatic headache occurs after a trauma to the head and neck. The headache may be caused by:
There are different types of headaches. Common post-traumatic headache types include:
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:
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:
Images may be taken of your brain, head, and neck to look for signs of injury. This can be done with:
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:
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:
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Headache Foundation
Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians
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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 14, 2015.
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 14, 2015.
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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 14, 2015.
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 2015 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.