Post Traumatic Headache: 5 Possible Causes

People who experience any sort of traumatic injury to their head or neck, very often come up with the complaint of a headache, known as post traumatic headache. This can occur due to mild, moderate, or severe trauma to the brain or even nerves from the spinal cord. The headache, if severe can also greatly affect the quality of life. The pain location usually varies in individuals depending upon the type and region of injury.

Symptoms of post traumatic headache

  • Throbbing headache like migraines
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Concentration problems
  • Dementia
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Tinnitus

Causes of post traumatic headache

People who undergo a traumatic brain Injury develop a headache very often. This can be due to several causes:

1- Concussion

The headache associated with concussion usually develops seven days after injury and is mainly due to incomplete healing, this can last as long as 3 to 6 months. The violent shaking of the body can damage the nerves or even the blow to the brain can also prove fatal at times.

2- Brain hemorrhage

Internal bleeding in the brain leads to decreased oxygen supply to the brain cells. The constant bleeding creates pressure in the brain and causes ischemic necrosis which results in post traumatic headache.

3- Imbalance of chemicals in the brain

Certain chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters are responsible for mood elevation. Due to a traumatic injury the imbalance between these chemicals particularly substance P and serotonin results in the development of a headache.

4- Swelling of brain structures

Swelling is due to the accumulation of fluid which results in cerebral edema. The edema exerts pressure on brain structures causing a headache.

5- Shrinkage of brain

Due to hypoxia or any injury the brain cells, neurons, undergo atrophy and the brain shrinks in size.

Management of post traumatic headache

The management depends upon the cause and severity of symptoms.


To diagnose the exact cause of post traumatic headache, proper history and a neurological examination should be done.
If your pain aggravates and is prolonged, your doctor might suggest getting an MRI done to rule out any severe injury to the brain, a hemorrhage, or shrinkage of brain structures.


During the first few weeks:

  • Anti-inflammatories: Aspirin, acetaminophen

If the headache persists, your doctor would put you on preventive treatment, i.e

  • Anti-hypertensives: B-blockers, calcium channel blockers
  • Anti-depressants: SSRIs
  • Anti-psychotics: Clozapine, risperidone

Long term treatment

Cognitive therapy, relaxation therapies, and physiotherapy might prove to be helpful.

When to consult a doctor?

If your headaches are persistent even after 3 months, you should get a proper examination done by a neurosurgeon.


I had an accident a week ago now I have a headache, what is it?

Post traumatic headache develops seven days after the trauma because the healing process is still going on.

What sort of treatment works for a post traumatic headache?

  • Anti-Inflammatories: Aspirin, acetaminophen
  • Anti-Hypertensives: B-blockers, calcium channel blockers
  • Anti-Depressants: SSRIs
  • Anti-psychotics: Clozapine, risperidone

How long does a post traumatic headache last?

The pain usually develops due to incomplete healing of injury and stops as soon as the injury heals that is within three months at least.

Last medically reviewed on September 8, 2022.