A migraine is no fun to deal with. They can come on unexpectedly and leave you feeling drained for days at a time. They can cause you to miss out on important events with your family, work, or friends. There are also side effects of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. However, one type of migraine is specific to those that play sports. This is a post-traumatic migraine. Let’s take a closer look as to what this is and how it can be best handled.
Athletes and Migraines
A headache usually follows a head injury and may last for months or years following even the mildest brain injury. The CDC says that approximately 1.6 to 3.8 million recreation and sports-related concussions happen in the USA each year. Sometimes athletes do not get the proper medical attention. Other times, the brain injury and complications that follow go undiagnosed. This is where post-traumatic migraines arise.
As many as 90 percent of athletes with sports-related concussions report having headaches occur after injury. However, many athletes downplay the intensity of their symptoms, leading to lack of evaluation for their headaches. In addition, the term headache is a blanket term describing a common condition that almost everyone experiences. However, post-traumatic migraines are not widely discussed among athletes. It is a serious condition that should be given more consideration.
Post-Traumatic Headache or Migraine
According to the International Headache Society, PTH (post-traumatic headache) is a headache or migraine that comes on within seven days of trauma or injury. It is a side effect of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by any number of things, such as vehicle accidents, a collision while playing sports, altercations, falling, or accidentally hitting your head. The migraine may be a result of inflammation, injury to the neck, or activation of the trigeminal nerve (the largest nerve in the head).
This type of headache is described as very similar to a migraine. It is moderate to severe in intensity, has a throbbing or pounding quality, and quite often goes away after a few months. However, in some instances, these headaches continue and evolve into a post-traumatic migraine. PTH can occur no matter how severe the initial injury was. Even if you don’t think you hit your head “that hard,” you may still be suffering from PTH.
Symptoms may include:
- Pulsating head pain
- Mood swings
- Neck pain
- Headaches that increase with physical activity
- Personality changes
- Double vision
- Problems concentrating
- Memory issues
- Ringing in the ears
If you are experiencing headaches that last a long time after sustaining a head injury, or if you have any of the above symptoms along with your headache, it is important for you to seek care from a professional as soon as possible. Post-traumatic headaches are not just headaches, they are much more serious.
Why Is a Post-Traumatic Headache or Migraine so Serious?
A standard neurological exam after a mild head injury doesn’t always reveal abnormalities related to PTH. It was previously thought that many of the symptoms being suffered were psychological in nature. However, microscopic studies have revealed a disruption of the nerve fibers in the brain due to the stretching or shearing forces of the trauma. Another area that has been noticed to be impacted is in small changes in the function of the brain.
Another area of concern is the changes that people who have had a post-traumatic migraine experience in mental functioning. This is most often seen in difficulty with concentration, paying attention, remembering things, and inability to work efficiently.
Caring for a Post-Traumatic Migraine
Medical doctors will often recommend medications such as tricyclic antidepressants to not only care for depression but also help with pain. Typical migraine medications are often suggested. Non-drug methods may be advised. Eating healthy, exercising regularly (at least every other day), and quitting bad habits, such as smoking, are encouraged. Keeping sleeping and eating schedules on a regular routine is a good idea. Practicing breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques can be helpful. However, the most important suggestion of all may be to make an appointment to visit your local upper cervical chiropractor. Why is this so important?
How Upper Cervical Chiropractic Helps a Post-Traumatic Migraine
One of the main reasons for a post-traumatic migraine can be related to the blow to the head or neck you received during the initial injury. It is more than likely that during this incident, one of the top bones of the neck, either the C1 or C2 vertebrae, became misaligned and has been putting pressure on the brainstem. Correcting the misalignment can help alleviate PTM symptoms.