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Headaches are one of the most common symptoms following a concussion. There are several common types, with varying symptoms and locations. Most headaches are not from a dangerous cause, nor do they cause damage to the brain.
There are medication and non-medication options that often help. We will discuss these options in this article.
Types of Headache
Headaches are usually categorized based on their symptoms and location, such as either migraine or tension headache. Daily headaches can also be caused by taking certain headache pain medications too often. The type of headache determines the treatments that are usually effective. Headaches very rarely require urgent medical attention.
For more information about your headache, you can talk to your family doctor
What Triggers My Headaches?
Common headache triggers include dehydration, stress, poor sleep, neck pain, and/or overstimulation. Poor sleep can also make headaches worse. The next slide lists some strategies to help. Figuring out a solution that works for you often takes time and practice.
Some triggers (e.g., stress) are very hard to avoid. Practicing dealing with or getting used to such triggers may be a better option than going to great lengths to avoid them.
If you are experiencing high levels of headache triggers such as stress or anxiety despite using self-management strategies, you may need further guidance from your family doctor.
Self Manage Your Headaches
Identifying your headache triggers early and using some of the following strategies can help reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches. Don’t wait for your headaches to get bad!
Self-management strategies for headache include:
- Applying a hot or cold pack to your head or neck
- Tying something tight around your head
- Practising breathing exercises
- Getting regular exercise
- Practising visualization or other mindfulness activity
- Taking a brain break
- Going to a quiet place
- Getting outside for fresh air
- Self-massaging the head and/or stretching your neck and shoulders muscles
- Eating regular meals
- Drinking plenty of water
- Practising good sleep hygiene
For more information on managing your headaches, please see the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation (ONF) patient guidelines [pdf].
Tracking Your Headaches
Keeping and taking a headache diary will help you and your family doctor better understand the type of headache you have. Make a note of these in your diary and take it to your doctor’s appointment:
- How often do you get headaches?
- How long do they last?
- Where do you feel the pain?
- How strong is the pain (from 1-10)?
- What type of pain do you feel (such as pressure, throbbing, stabbing)?
- Do you have other symptoms (such as nausea or vomiting)?
- Does anything trigger your headaches? Is there anything that helps relieve the pain?
- Have you tried any treatments?
- Did they improve your symptoms or have side effects?
- Do your headaches affect your ability to function (such as do your work, go to school, attend social events, do hobbies, or get out of bed)?
You can print a copy of the tracking sheet from the ONF patient guidelines [pdf].
Medications Your Family Doctor May Recommend
Medications for headache fall into two main categories. One category of medications stops a headache once it has started (also called “rescue medications”) and the other category of medications prevent headaches from starting (preventative medications).
Common rescue medications include acetaminophen , ibuprofen , and “tryptan” medications. Using them can help reduce headache severity and improve how you function. These medications should not be used on a daily basis for very long periods (many months).
Preventative medications are used when headaches occur frequently. They are taken every day, even if there is no headache that day. Your family doctor can help you to decide whether a preventive medication is right for your headaches.
For more information on headache medications, please see the section on “What medication my doctor may prescribe” of the ONF patient guidelines [pdf].
Headaches resulting from concussion usually improve with time.
If you find your headaches are not improving with the use of self-management strategies, speak to your family doctor. They may review medications, refer to a specialist, or explore other treatment options in partnership with you.