Living With Migraines

Sports, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Migraine 

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Sports, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Migraine 

Getting tackled on the football field, landing hard during a soccer game, a collision on the basketball court, crashing into the sideboards at the hockey rink… Autumn and winter signal the return of many high-action sports, But every year, along with passion on the playing field comes the risk of impact injuries. Among the most concerning: traumatic brain injury, or TBI

A TBI is a sudden jolt to your head, often causing a jolt to the neck as well. An impact like this can result from a fall or a crash, and both are quite possible when playing contact sports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that anywhere from 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related TBIs occur each year in the U.S.

Headache after TBI: Is It a Migraine?

Can an impact to the head as a result of playing sports lead to migraine?

Headache — or more specifically, post-traumatic headache — is one of the most prevalent symptoms following a TBI, says the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, typically developing within 7 days of injury. And while about 90% of athletes with a sports-related TBI experience headache after their injury, many don't seek treatment, according to the American Migraine Foundation.

In a review of studies published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, researchers noted 29% of all post-traumatic headaches were migraines. But migraine is not the only form of headache that can occur after TBI: tension-type headache made up 37%; other types of headache, 32%.

What Types of Migraine Can Occur after TBI?

Two types of migraine can affect people after a sports injury, according to TheraSpecs:

  • The most common form is migraine with or without aura. Besides head pain, people with migraine may have nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, and/or smell. Some also experience what is known as aura — visual disturbances, numbness, weakness, or speech difficulty just before head pain begins.
  • A less frequent type of migraine that may follow TBI is vestibular migraine. This form of migraine includes some or all of the migraine symptoms noted above, accompanied by vestibular symptoms — dizziness, vertigo, or morning sickness. Vestibular migraine is one of the most common causes of recurring dizziness after an injury, and may even last for several years. 

What is Migraine after a Sports Injury Like?

Symptoms after a TBI can be unpredictable. According to Brainline, the severity of your TBI may not line up with the severity of your headache. For example, you may have a mild TBI from a fall…yet still develop very painful headaches. 

Post-TBI migraine might be mild or severe, infrequent or steady. The good news: as unpredictable as symptoms may be, they typically disappear with time, as your brain recovers.

A word of advice: be sure to see a physician if you experience migraine or other head pain following a sports injury, regardless of whether it lasts just a short time or lingers for a few days. For more information, check out our related blog, Head Trauma and Migraines.

Symptoms after a TBI can be unpredictable. The severity of your TBI may not line up with the severity of your headache. For example, you may have a mild TBI from a fall…yet still develop very painful headaches. 

When It’s Time to Find Long-Term Help

If you struggle to find relief from headaches, regardless of whether it’s been caused by a sports injury, you’re not alone. Frequent, painful headaches can be difficult to deal with, but proper diagnosis and treatment can help. If you can’t determine what’s triggering your headaches, or if they’re getting worse, speak to a medical professional.

For people who experience migraine, Mable can help. We offer streamlined migraine diagnosis and treatment assisted by world-leading experts in migraine care. Our headache specialists help tailor your DNA-guided migraine treatment plan based on the latest evidence and clinical practice. Over time, we can work with you to help reduce the frequency and severity of your migraine. 

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Announces Updated Information to help Physicians Recognize and Manage Concussions Early. 
  2. Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center. Headaches After Traumatic Brain Injury. 
  3. American Migraine Foundation. Post-Traumatic Headache and Concussion in Athletes. 
  4. NIH/National Library of Medicine. Lew HL, Lin PH, Fuh JL, Wang SJ, Clark DJ, Walker WC. Characteristics and treatment of headache after traumatic brain injury: a focused review.
  5. TheraSpecs. 5 Types of Chronic Headaches and Migraines after TBI. 
  6. Brainline. Managing Post-Traumatic Headaches After Brain Injury. 

Updated on
October 6, 2022
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