Cervical dysfunction is often a cause or contributing factor of headaches, especially those that occur following a sports injury, slip and fall, or motor vehicle collision. The results of a 2019 study suggest that headaches may also indicate when a patient has a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI).
In the study, researchers asked 121 children with a history of TBI to fill out a questionnaire called the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT). A higher score on the SCAT is indicative of a more severe TBI. Among the participants, the SCAT revealed that a third (40) reported headaches following their injury. When the researchers compared the SCAT scores of the kids with post-TBI headaches and those without headaches, they found that the participants who experienced headaches scored five times higher (median score 45.5 vs. 9). These children also performed worse on cognitive assessments involving color naming, matrix reasoning, letter sequencing, and letter switching.
The authors concluded that when headaches are associated with TBI, higher symptom scores (i.e. more severe symptoms) for ALL other symptom categories (sleep, mood, sensory, and cognitive domains) can be expected. In addition, those with headaches also tested worse on neurocognitive examinations.
Interestingly, a study that included a wider age range reported that headache “is consistently the most common symptom following concussion and occurs in over 90% of athletes with sport-related concussion,” which is much higher than the 33% found in the above- mentioned study.
Another study that analyzed information from two large databases found that patients who are hospitalized for headache symptoms associated with TBI are two times more likely to experience more frequent or worse headache symptoms over the following decade. Thus, the worse the initial TBI, the more likely headaches will persist or worsen.
These studies suggest that when an individual suffers a TBI from a sports injury, slip and fall, or car accident AND they have headaches, their condition may be more severe and may require more specialized care or intensive treatment to achieve a successful outcome. These injuries can also affect the cervical region, which may explain why patients with TBI benefit from many of the same treatment approaches doctors of chiropractic use to treat whiplash associated disorder patients.