Och! my Head! Understanding TBI Headaches

Brain injury bring about some amazing headaches. Some come with light shows and sounds of freight trains. They can leave us debilitated for days in ways we may never have thought possible.

Here is a description of the various headaches I have now with TBI and what I’ve found to be effective in treating them. I’d love to learn from your experience as well — comment away in the comments!

Muscle/Tension Headache:

Blows to the head cause muscle and skeletal trauma in the neck, shoulders, and back because that’s where our rocks are anchored. Bash about the rocks, and their anchor point takes a lot of strain too.

When I “short circuit,” my muscles tense up, thinking they can protect me from impending disaster (the birds are chirping or the heater came on). When they do not let go, their constriction decreases blood flow, and spreads up my neck and to my skull, which then feels like a vice clamp is making it implode.

If unchecked, this will lead to a migraine headache in conjunction, and then I’m out for days, both getting rid of the headache and then recovering from it.

If I enter an adrenaline rush, then my muscles instantly clench up as part of the fight or flight response.

Migraine Headache:

Migraine headaches are triggered by various things in different people. In my case, direct light, flashing lights, reflecting lights, and many and various smells are a direct triggers. I also get them (most often now, as I avoid the direct triggers as much as possible) as the “second stage” of tension or sinus headaches, when the migraine joins the party and makes for a doozie of a whop-banging headache that makes the battle scenes of Braveheart feel like they are happening inside my head. Spears, swords, axes, hammers, oh my!

The only thing that helps my migraines is sleep in a dark and quiet room and then days of recovery. I avoid these beasts as much as possible and have not had one in a very long time.

Sinus Headaches

Pressure in the cheeks, behind the eyes or in the forehead is most often the result of sinus pressure.

Why do people with TBI, who did not have sinus issues before, suddenly have them after their brain injury?

Stress. Stress increases our breathing, causing us to cast off too much CO2, required to exchange oxygen at a cellular level. By over breathing from constant stress, our body tries to protect us by swelling our sinuses. Unwittingly most of us get around this by breathing through our mouth. Buteyko Breathing is the best way I know to learn how to breath properly all the time, eliminating sinus headaches completely.

What’s Helped

Here’s what’s worked for me (in no particular order), and the types of headaches I’ve found them effective against:

— dangling on my inversion table as soon as I short circuit. Increases blood flow to my brain and helps relax the muscles. (All types)

Cacao Nibs. Helps relax my head when it is recovering from implosion due to either muscle tension or adrenaline rushes.

ResGrape red wine grape extract. Increases blood flow by dilating blood vessels. Opens up my head and makes it feel far more normal than it has since before I became disabled 8 years ago.

— Barefoot running. My entire body moves better and more efficiently, my posture is improved, and my back, shoulders, and neck are far, far looser all the time. It increases blood flow, and releases the body’s natural healing that science does not understand but is beginning to know is there.

— Advil, taken in prescription dose (800 mg). as a muscle relaxant. This helps with the few tension headaches that I can’t treat in other ways.

Buteyko Breathing. Helps decrease the frequency and severity of muscle tension headaches, and eliminates sinus headaches all together.