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Definition

A post-traumatic headache can happen after an injury or trauma to the head and neck.

Head and Neck
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Causes

Post-traumatic headache is caused by trauma to the head and neck. The headache may be caused by:

  • Blood or fluid build up inside the skull
  • Changes in the brain caused by the injury
  • Neck and skull injuries that are still healing
  • Tension and stress

Risk Factors

Anyone who has had a head injury is at greater risk for this type of headache.

Symptoms

Problems may start right after the injury or as it is healing. A person may have:

  • Head and neck pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Tiredness
  • Focus problems
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Mood and personality changes

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about any recent trauma to the head, neck, or face. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to manage headaches until the person has healed. Complete rest is rarely needed.

Medicines may be given to help manage headache pain. These may be:

  • Over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen
  • Antidepressants
  • Triptans
  • Muscle relaxants

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to lower the risk of this problem.

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  https://www.familydoctor.org 

National Headache Foundation  http://www.headaches.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The College of Family Physicians of Canada  http://www.cfpc.ca 

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Headaches after head injuries—post-traumatic headaches. Brainline website. Available at: https://www.brainline.org/article/headaches-after-head-injuries-%E2%80%94-post-traumatic-headaches. Accessed September 11, 2020.

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 September 11, 2020.

Post-traumatic headache. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/2007/10/25/post-traumatic-headache. Accessed September 11, 2020.

Posttraumatic headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/condition/posttraumatic-headache  . Accessed September 11, 2020.

Riechers RG 2nd, Walker MF, et al. Post-traumatic headaches. Handb Clin Neurol. 2015;128:567-578.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN
  • Review Date: 03/2020
  • Update Date: 09/11/2020