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Post-Concussion Headaches: Understanding and Managing the Pain

Under: General Health, Migraine

A concussion is a common injury to the brain that can cause a variety of physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms. One of the most persistent and debilitating symptoms following a concussion are post-concussion headaches, which can be local, occurring only in the head, or more generalized, affecting other areas such as the neck and back. Post-concussion headaches can also mimic other types of head pain, such as migraines or tension headaches. In this article, we’ll explore post-concussion headaches, their causes, types, duration, and effective treatment methods.

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Even mild concussions can have significant, and sometimes lasting effects, including cognitive impairment, balance issues, and headaches. The impact disrupts brain function temporarily, leading to a cascade of symptoms that can persist long after the initial injury.

Concussions can happen from any type of direct trauma to the head, such as sports injuries, car accidents, falls, etc. The symptoms may not be immediately apparent and can develop over hours or days following the injury, which makes concussions sometimes tricky to diagnose. Common symptoms include headaches, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Dizziness is a common symptom of post-concussion headaches

Why Do Post-Concussion Headaches Occur?

Post-concussion headaches can happen due to a variety of factors. Studies show that trauma to the head can cause structural changes in the brain, leading to altered blood flow, chemical imbalances, and inflammation. These changes, particularly inflammation, can lead to headaches in the hours or days following the injury. Additionally, the stress and anxiety associated with the recovery process can further exacerbate headache symptoms.

That said, the exact mechanisms behind post-concussion headaches are complex and multifaceted. The brain’s response to injury involves a series of biochemical changes, including the release of neurotransmitters and inflammatory substances. These changes can also lead to increased sensitivity in the brain’s pain pathways, resulting in headaches.

How Long Do Post-Concussion Headaches Last?

The duration of post-concussion headaches varies widely among individuals, with personal factors, such as your age, the nature of the injury, and your overall health status influencing how fast you might recover from a concussion. For some, headaches resolve within a few weeks, while others may experience them for months or even years.

Research suggests that most individuals with mild concussions recover fully within three months, but up to 33% may experience prolonged symptoms, including headaches. Chronic post-concussion headaches can significantly impact quality of life, affecting daily activities, work, and social interactions. This is why early, and effective management is crucial in mitigating long-term effects and improving outcomes.

Types of Post-Concussion Headaches

Post-concussion headaches are not one-size-fits-all. Concussion headaches can mimic different types of headaches like migraines or tension headaches. The pain may be localized to the head, neck, or shoulders. Some people experience migraine-like symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness with their post-concussion headaches. Others may have more of a dull, tension-type headache pain.

The headaches typically begin within 7 days after the head injury and can last for weeks or even months in some cases, becoming chronic post-concussion headaches. Monitoring symptoms and seeking treatment is important if headaches persist beyond the expected recovery period.

Post concussion headache can manifest in several different forms, each with unique characteristics and treatment approaches. Types of post-concussion headaches include:

Migraine Headaches
Migraine headaches are common post-concussion and are characterized by intense, throbbing pain, often on one side of the head. They can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. In people with a concussion, migraines are typically triggered by changes in brain chemistry and blood flow.

Migraines can be particularly debilitating, often requiring folks to retreat to a dark, quiet room until the pain subsides. If you struggle with migraines, identifying and avoiding triggers, such as certain foods, stress, and sleep disturbances, can help manage their frequency and severity. In the case of a concussion, medications specifically designed to treat migraines may be prescribed.

Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are a constant, dull ache, often described as a tight band around the head. They are usually less severe than migraines but can be equally debilitating due to their persistent nature. When it comes to concussions, these headaches are thought to be related to muscle tension and stress following the injury.

Tension headaches often respond well to relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Physical therapy and massage following a concussion can also help alleviate muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, which can contribute to tension headaches. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may provide relief as well.

Local Headaches
Local headaches are specific to the area of the head that sustained the injury. They can vary in intensity and duration, often presenting as sharp or throbbing pain at the site of the impact, such as the side, back, or top of the head. These headaches may be a direct result of damage to the scalp, skull, or underlying tissues.

Treatment for local headaches often involves addressing the underlying injury. For example, ice packs and anti-inflammatory medications can reduce swelling and pain at the injury site. In some cases, more advanced interventions, such as nerve blocks or injections, may be necessary to manage chronic pain.

How to Treat a Post-Concussion Headache

Treating post-concussion headaches may vary depending on your symptoms, health status, and the severity of the headache and concussion.

Rest and Recovery: The most important part of concussion treatment and recovery is rest. Immediately following a concussion and in the days after, it’s critical to allow the brain time to heal by avoiding physical and cognitive strain. This includes limiting screen time, avoiding strenuous activities, and getting plenty of sleep.

Medication: Your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or prescription medications based on the severity of your symptoms. It’s important to avoid taking medications that can increase the risk of bleeding or worsen symptoms. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medications specifically designed for migraines or chronic pain.

Hydration and Nutrition: Staying hydrated and maintaining a healthy diet can help manage headache symptoms. Dehydration and poor nutrition can exacerbate headache symptoms, so it’s important to drink plenty of water and eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.

Physical Therapy: Some people require physical therapy to heal after a concussion. Particularly, therapies that focus on neck and spine health can alleviate tension headaches. Plus, vestibular therapy may also be recommended to address balance issues related to the concussion. Physical therapists can teach patients exercises to strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles and improve posture, which can help reduce headache frequency and severity.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): For people whose headaches are exacerbated by stress and anxiety following a concussion, CBT can provide strategies to manage these triggers. CBT helps individuals develop coping mechanisms and cognitive strategies to reduce stress and manage pain more effectively.

Avoiding Triggers: Identifying and avoiding headache triggers, such as certain foods, bright lights, and loud noises, can reduce the frequency and severity of headaches after a concussion. If you suffer from chronic migraine or headaches, keeping a headache diary can help identify patterns and triggers, allowing you to make lifestyle adjustments to minimize headaches.


Alternative Therapies: Some people find relief from post-concussion headaches through alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, biofeedback, and chiropractic care. These therapies can provide additional options for managing pain and promoting overall well-being.

MigreLief: Many concussion specialists and sports medicine clinics have recommended the nutritional support of MigreLief for their concussion patients. MigreLief is a dietary supplement containing two forms of magnesium, high dose riboflavin and Puracol, feverfew, and formulated to maintain healthy cerebrovascular function, healthy mitochondrial energy (powerhouses of brain cells) and healthy nerve transmission in the brain.

In Closing
Post-concussion headaches can be a debilitating and challenging symptom of traumatic brain injury. That’s why understanding the different types of headaches and their underlying causes is so important for effective management and recovery.

With the right combination of rest, medical attention, and lifestyle adjustments, individuals who’ve suffered from a concussion can find relief and return to their normal activities. Remember to always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment plans tailored to your specific needs. Post-concussion recovery can be a long journey, but with the right support and strategies, it’s possible to overcome the challenges and regain a healthy, pain-free life.