Mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and headaches

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is mild if the period of disorientation and confusion and/or loss of consciousness are no more than 30 minutes.  Mild TBI is often also referred to as minor brain injury, minor head injury, minor TBI, minor head trauma, and concussion.  The effects of TBI are frequently referred to as post concussive syndrome. 

The word “mild” tends to give the wrong impression about the potential effects of this sort of injury.  It is true that when mild TBI occurs, CAT scans and MRI tests carried out on the patient are often normal.  However, it is common for mild TBI sufferers to experience many different problems, including:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Problems with memory
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Feelings of frustration, and irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Loss of balance, and dizziness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Slowness in thinking
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Confusion
  • Nausea

Unfortunately, the effects of mild TBI are frequently not taken seriously enough by healthcare professionals.  It is common for mild TBI to be completely overlooked at the time of injury, but 15% of mild TBI sufferers experience symptoms for in excess of one year (

TBI and headaches

One of the most common symptoms of mild TBI is headache.  This kind of headache is referred to as post-traumatic headache.  More than 30% of people who experience TBI have such headaches for extensive periods of time after the injury. 

Brain injury can cause headaches for several different reasons.  One is brain changes that were caused by the injury.  Another is injuries to the neck and skull, while a third is stress and tension.  A fourth possible cause is medication side effects.

Several different kinds of headache can be caused by mild TBI, for example:

  • Migraine: Migraine can occur as a result of mild TBI, if an area of the brain is rendered hypersensitive, thus triggering a pain signal that is sent to other areas of the brain. Symptoms of a migraine can include nausea and vomiting; sensitivity to light and sound; moderate to severe head pain; a sensation of throbbing on one side of the head; aura (seeing things such as bright lights and spots).
  • Tension-type headache: muscle tension or spasms can lead to tension-type headache. Tension-type headaches most often occur later in the day, and involve mild to moderate pain.  They involve a squeezing, tight sensation on both sides of the head, or around the head.
  • Cervicogenic headache: Cervicogenic headache can occur when there is injury to the soft tissue and muscle at the back of the head and in the neck. Cervicogenic headaches can range from mild to severe in pain, and the pain can be worsened by movement or positioning of the neck.  These headaches often begin in the back of the head, neck, and shoulders, and frequently reach over the top of the head.

If you experience mild TBI, make sure to see your doctor and get examined.  Make sure to visit your physician again right away if any of the following symptoms arise:

Brain injury of any kind should always be taken very seriously.  Make sure to get your injury and symptoms addressed by a medical professional.