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Post-Traumatic Headache

Post Truh-mat-ick Head-ak


A post-traumatic headache is a common symptom following injury or trauma to the head and neck.

Head and Neck

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Causes    TOP

Post-traumatic headache occurs after a 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

There are different types of headaches. Common post-traumatic headache types include:

  • Tension headaches due to muscle tension or spasms and stress
  • Migraine headaches due to a sensitive area in the brain that triggers a pain signal
  • Cervicogenic headaches due to injury to the muscles and soft tissues
  • Rebound headaches from medications used to treat headaches

The headache may also include psychiatric, behavioral, or social factors.

Risk Factors    TOP

Your chances of a post-traumatic headache is increased if you have had a history of head injuries.

Symptoms    TOP

A post-traumatic headache may occur right after the injury or as the injury is healing. Symptoms may include:

  • Head pain—symptoms depend on the cause of the headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Visual problems such as seeing spots or bright lights
  • Pain that occurs at the end of the day
  • Pain that starts in the neck, shoulders, and back of the head
  • Pain with neck movement
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Problems concentrating which may include difficulty with multitasking or quickly feeling fatigue performing mental tasks
  • Mood and personality changes

Diagnosis    TOP

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:

  • When your headaches start and end
  • What you were doing at the time
  • What you tried to relieve the pain
  • Any other symptoms you had with your headache

Images may be taken of your brain, head, and neck to look for signs of injury. This can be done with:

Treatment    TOP

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:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • Over-the-counter medications for migraines
  • Prescription pain medication—antidepressants or triptans
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Anti-anxiety medication—rarely


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.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chances of a head and neck injury:

  • Wear a helmet during certain activities such as riding a bike or motorcycle, playing a contact sport, using skates, scooters, or skateboards, riding a horse, skiing or snowboarding.
  • Reduce falling hazards at home.
  • Always wear a seat belt in motor vehicles.
  • Never drink and drive.
  • Avoid using sedatives, especially when driving.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Headache Foundation


The College of Family Physicians of Canada


Headache. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Upddated December 20, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2018.
Headaches after head injuries—post-traumatic headaches. Brainline website. Available at: Accessed March 13, 2018.
Headaches after traumatic brain injury. Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed March 13, 2018.
Post-traumatic headache. National Headache Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed March 13, 2018.
Posttraumatic headache. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated February 15, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2018.
Sheedy J, Harvey E, Faux S, Geffen G, Shores EA. 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 March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 2/17/2014

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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