One of the most common effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is headaches. It has been assumed that these headaches would gradually lessen as healing from the injury occurred, but a new study suggests that headaches related to these injuries may persist for five years or more after the injury.
These headaches could be related to brain injury, but another potential cause of persistent headaches after an accident or fall is TMJ, temporomandibular joint disorders. TMJ-related headaches can persist until TMJ, often undiagnosed after a serious accident, is treated.
To determine whether headaches following TBI were persistent or tended to heal , researchers looked at data from more than 300 individuals who had experienced moderate to severe brain injuries.
Researchers looked at prior medical history, then evaluated subjects at three, six, 12, and 60 months after their accident. From the medical history, researchers looked at prior headaches, then at each evaluation, they asked about the frequency, type, pain rating, and impact of headaches.
Before their accident, only about 17% had reported headaches. But at each evaluation, about a third of subjects reported new or worsening headaches. By the end of the study, nearly all subjects had headaches, and more than a third of subjects reported headaches multiple times a week, some even reported daily headaches.
Overall, the pain rating of headaches didn’t increase significantly, remaining between 5.6 and 6.4. About half of the tracked headaches were considered migraines or possible migraines.
TMJ, TBI, and Headaches
This study shows us that, far from healing, headaches related to traumatic brain injury actually increase over time. We need to consider these results preliminary until they undergo peer review for publication in a journal, but we should take it into account, and not necessarily expect TBI-related headaches to just go away on their own without active intervention.
It’s also important to remember that not all the headaches might be caused by the brain injury. Many instances where a person might experience a traumatic brain injury, they might also sustain a jaw injury, such as a blow during an altercation or whiplash during a car accident. Because TMJ can be a progressive condition, it may partly account for worsening headaches after the accident.
After you experience a TBI, you should talk to your doctor and get specialized care for your brain injury. But if treatments your doctor and specialists prescribe isn’t working, consider the possibility that you may have another injury that could be contributing to your headaches. We can determine whether TMJ treatment or some other approach might give better results for your headache care.