Concussions and Post-Traumatic Headaches

Concussions and Post-Traumatic Headaches

What is a Concussion?

According to the American Migraine Foundation, a concussion is defined as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that changes the way the brain functions. They are, therefore, a result of a direct hit to the head.

While a hit to the head is one of the most common causes of a concussion, violent shaking of the head or neck can also cause whiplash. When sudden movement forces the brain to move in the skull, it can cause a chemical change in the brain or brain cells.

Common signs of a concussion may include:

  • Confusion or feeling ‘foggy’

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Amnesia

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head.

You don’t need to lose consciousness to be diagnosed with a concussion, as only about 10 percent of patients who experience a concussion actually lose consciousness.

What is a Post-Traumatic Headache?

After a traumatic brain injury, 90 percent of individuals typically experience headaches. Headaches are the most obvious sign of any brain damage or injury and can arise immediately after an impact.

A post-traumatic headache, in contrast, typically develops within seven days of an injury or regained consciousness, and lasts for at least three to six months. They can result from mild, moderate, or severe injury. Veterans and athletes (both professional and amateur) are more prone to TBIs and account for about 75 percent of reported TBI cases.

Post-traumatic headaches most closely resemble migraines and are often associated with moderate to severe intensity, pulsating, and light or sound sensitivity. Other symptoms may be present, including nausea, or vomiting.

Migraines v. Post-Traumatic Headaches

Many people assume that a severe headache is automatically a migraine, but this is not always the case. While anyone who has experienced a migraine can tell you that they’re certainly not pleasant, they differ in cause from a post-traumatic headache.

Migraines are typically associated with a number of causes, including:

  • Emotional triggers such as stress

  • Lack of exercise

  • Dehydration

  • Poor diet

A post-traumatic headache, however, directly relates to an injury to the head.

The Link Between Concussions and Post Traumatic Headaches

A post-traumatic headache typically occurs after a traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion. There are different levels of brain injury, including:

  • Concussion

  • Contusion

  • Penetration

This means that aching associated with a concussion is actually a post-traumatic headache, but a concussion is not the only cause of a post-traumatic headache.

Treating Post-Traumatic Headaches and Concussions

Most concussive symptoms resolve quickly and spontaneously. However, some patients experience prolonged symptoms, such as a post-traumatic headache. There is no known treatment for a concussion other than rest.

If you’ve suffered a head injury, you should see your doctor to determine if you do indeed have a concussion. You should also refrain from participating in physical activity and using electronics to give your brain time to heal.

Athletes should especially refrain from returning to physical activity until they are symptom-free and have been cleared by their doctor.


If you begin to notice a severe headache following an injury, seek medical help immediately. For more information about concussions and emergency concussion care, contact Advance ER in Dallas today.
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