Management of post-concussion headaches

Why does it happen?

In short, a concussion causes brain cells to be temporarily damaged.  Thankfully, these brain cells will heal!  Until they heal, communication between brain cells is more difficult.  This difficulty results in concussion symptoms because the brain is having to work harder, with injured connections and less energy, trying to perform its usual numerous actions.   This very helpful blog post explains exactly what happens in the brain that causes headache: What happens to your brain?

How else could this symptom manifest?

Are there any helpful medications/supplements?

“Fortunately, your brain can repair and heal itself! It is valuable to remember that your brain can be retrained. Networks between neurons can be reshaped, rebuilt, and strengthened.”  With time, care, and occasionally with medications and natural health products, quality of life and symptoms will get better.  Though this list is not extensive, these are a few medications/supplements to discuss with your concussion provider that may be helpful for your child’s headaches:

The FDA does not regulate Natural Health Products (NHP’s) in the same way as prescription medications and therefore when choosing a NHP it is important to consider interactions with other NHP’s and medications, whether the product has undergone 3rd party testing (like that done by Consumer Lab), and the number of ingredients in each product.   The companies we typically trust, because they conduct 3rd party testing and have fewer added ingredients include:  Metagenics, Pure Encapsulations, Nordic Naturals, Barleans, Kirkland Signature, NatureMade, and Neurobiologix. 

What else can we do?

  1. Encourage your child to listen to his/her body. If an activity he/she is doing is not making the headache worse, it is likely okay to continue (assuming the activity has no risk for another brain injury).  If the headache is worsened by an activity, it is best to stop, take a break, and then try again.  Listening to his/her body, rather than “pushing through” an activity despite worsening symptoms, will greatly help recovery.  An easy rule of thumb is not let their headache reach a number >5/10.  So, if for example they start their day with a headache rated 2/10 and schoolwork causes it to go up to a 4/10, it’s okay to keep pushing; however, if that headache gets to a 5 or greater, stop and take a break. 
  2. Stay home from school until awakening without a headache, then start with half-days and progress to full school days as tolerated.
  3. Minimize activities that may worsen symptoms; this could include using screens, riding in the car, being out in direct sunlight, spending time in crowded places, etc.
  4. Once headache triggers are identified, if they can’t be avoided, try something to lessen the intensity of the trigger.
  1. Though parents know our children so well, we can’t read their minds. To complicate things, their concussion symptoms are often not obvious us, unless they are specifically verbalized outload.  Because of this, it can be easy to doubt that they truly feel the symptoms they are reporting.  It is so important that we validate them, letting them know that that we believe them. Then, it is important to encourage them that these concussion symptoms will resolve and that they will return to normal.

Most children recover from a concussion in 3-4 weeks, and during that time, symptoms typically improve very gradually.  If this is not the observed trend, or symptoms are worsening, it is very important to talk to your concussion provider. 

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/pediatricmtbiguidelineeducationaltools/2018-mTBI_Recovery-508.pdf

https://www.concussionalliance.org/what-happens-to-your-brain

Author
SportsSafe Providers SportsSafe providers include pediatric nurse practitioners Amber Mercer, Erin Moore, and Emily Woodard.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Management of post-concussion eye symptoms

This blog post sheds light on very common eye symptoms experienced post-concussion. We discuss why they occur, other symptoms they could manifest as, medications and supplements, and tips for management.

Concussion prevention and detection products

Thankfully, scientists are constantly inventing and studying products to help detect and prevent concussions. We wanted to take a moment to summarize what we have learned about those products most recently introduced.

Concussion trajectories

ImPACT researchers believe that each concussion falls into 1 or more of 6 trajectories, and that once we understand the trajectories,  symptoms, physical findings, and useful treatments can be better understood. We will explore these in the months ahead.

Returning to sports after COVID-19 illness

COVID-19 has changed almost all aspects of our lives. For kids, one area that has been changed, is returning to sports participation. Please read below to find out how we determine when and if a child is safe to return to these activities.

Screen time and eye health in light of COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we have all spent much more time looking at screens than ever before. Though in most scenarios, we cannot change school requirements, we can feel empowered to help our kids use screens with certain guidelines.