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Brain Injury and Headaches

A headache is a painful sensation in any part of your head that is usually throbbing or constant. It can range from sharp to dull pain and can make it difficult for people to carry out their everyday routines and activities. It is common for individuals to experience recurrent and long-lasting headaches after sustaining a traumatic brain injury. This may be caused by various factors, which include: 

  • Changes in your brain caused by the injury 
  • Skull or neck injuries that have not yet healed 
  • Tension or stress 
  • Medication side effects 

There are different types of headaches that an individual with TBI may experience. The most common ones are migraine headaches, tension-type headaches, Cervicogenic headaches, and rebound headaches.  

Types of Headaches  Description  Symptoms 
Migraine  A migraine is a severe throbbing or pulsing sensation that is recurrent and usually occurs on one side of the head. 
  • Dull, throbbing sensation that is usually on one side of your head 
  • Nausea/vomiting 
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound 
  • Aura (seeing spots or bright lights) 
Tension  Tension headaches are usually associated with muscle tension, muscle spasms, or stress 
  • Tight or squeezing sensation  
  • Usually occurs later in the day 
Cervicogenic  A cervicogenic headache is caused by other illnesses or physical problems, such as injury to the muscles and soft tissues in the neck or back of the head. 
  • Pain that begins in the neck, shoulders, and back of the head that usually travels to the top of the head 
  • Pain gets worse with certain neck movements or positioning 
Rebound  Rebound headaches usually occur when a person over uses or misuses headache medication (i.e., missing a dose after taking it daily). It can also happen when you limit the amount of caffeine that you normally use. 
  • Pain occurs every day or almost every day 
  • Pain is usually relieved with pain medication but then returns when the medication wears off 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Irritability 
  • Restlessness   


General strategies that individuals with TBI can use to relieve headaches are: 

  • Yoga or meditation  
  • Stretches or self-massage 
  • Heat or ice packs 
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications, i.e., Tylenol or ibuprofen 
  • Rest in a quiet, dark room 
  • Stay hydrated with water 
  • Get good and adequate sleep 
  • Limit alcohol  
  • Get regular exercise  




For more TBI Glossary Terms, click here.


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