What is Post Traumatic Headache

When you experience a head injury one of the possible symptoms you may have is a headache. The headache may persist for months or years afterwards, even with a mild head trauma. The frequency and the severity of the headache should diminish over time. Most post traumatic headaches disappear entirely after 6 to 12 months from the trauma.

The cause of the chronic headache post trauma is usually muscle contraction. Muscle contraction is sustained contraction of the muscles of the neck and scalp.

Emotional Component

When injured we tend to have an emotional reaction that may manifest itself as anxiety, fear or resentment. These emotions can make muscle contraction or vascular changes worse and may start a never-ending cycle of emotion to tension to contraction to headache.

To treat the cycle doctors prescribe tranquilizers or antidepressants for the emotional reactions and non-narcotic analgesics for the headaches. Physical therapy or manipulative medicine may also be of help in relieving posttraumatic headache.

Other Causes

Posttraumatic headaches can follow not only head injuries but neck injuries also, such as what might occur after a rear-end vehicle accident. Posttraumatic headaches can disrupt life, and are quite painful. The headache usually begins within hours or days of the traumatic event.

At risk for chronic post traumatic headache are individuals who suffered migraines or who had pre-existing headaches prior to the traumatic event.

There are several factors that determine who might suffer from posttraumatic headache including where you were sitting in the vehicle during a crash, the angle of impact, and what happened to the brain within the skull.


Posttraumatic headaches can be one of two different types: tension-type and migraine. Some posttraumatic patients suffer from mixed headaches, suffering from both migraines and chronic tension-type headaches.

How are posttraumatic headaches diagnosed? A medical work-up may include a CAT scan, or a MRI scan that can rule out an intracranial hemorrhage. The doctor may also order an EEG. Usually the most common way of determining if you have posttraumatic headache is through a neurological exam.

The individual with post traumatic headache may present with other symptoms too such as poor concentration, sensitivity to noise or bright lights, depression, dizziness, tinnitus, memory problems, fatigue, insomnia, a decreased libido, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, being easily frustrated, or being easily angered. The person may also have a decreased ability to understand complex issues.

The treatment for posttraumatic headaches includes the use of anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxants and also antiemetic medications. Sometimes DHE injections or nasal sprays, corticosteroids, narcotics, and sedatives are also used. The choice of medications depends on the duration and severity of the headaches.