Young Man sitting and writing but holding his head in one hand indicating he has a headache

Concussion Complications 

Its just a bump to the head – what is the worry?

Complications from concussions can prevent you from working, participating in day-to-day activities, spoil your holiday, and can be dangerous. Everyone will experience a concussion differently but here are a few common problems and ideas to help you when you speak with your doctor about what you are experiencing. It may not be just a bump to the head – the worry is real.

Post-traumatic headaches 

Everyone recognizes a headache as a classic sign of a concussion, but did you know that you can get a new headache up to 7 days afterwards?  This second headache is referred to as a post-traumatic headache and presents like a migraine, or a tension headache that is moderate to severe.  When muscles tighten up at the time of the injury, blood vessels may narrow and reduce the blood flow to the brain.  

  • nausea and vomiting may occur
  • dizzy
  • poor concentration
  • memory issues
  • insomnia
  • light and sound sensitivity
  • anxiety or depression
  • headache pain that may pulse or throb

These symptoms may get worse with activity. Remember you may not experience all these symptoms – it may only be one.  But that may be enough to impact your daily life.

Post-traumatic headaches can occur occasionally or may be ongoing for months. 

How to manage a post-traumatic headache

If you are having difficulty working or enjoying everyday activities, there are ways to manage the pain. Always speak to your doctor first before trying any of these suggestions but here is a list of common suggestions from doctors.  This is not medical advice. Only your doctors will be able to tell you the best way for you to manage symptoms.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen
  • Pain medications – acetaminophen
  • Migraine medications – doctor prescribed

Therapy – ask your doctor about one of these non-medical treatments

  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy (OT)
  • Nerve stimulation
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Speech Therapy

In our first blog we talked about signs and symptoms and the importance of recognizing signs of concussion.  Early intervention is always best.  Your doctor will be able to watch for the early signs of post-traumatic headache and treat you early.

Post-traumatic vertigo – dizziness and balance problems

Imagine being on the worst spinning ride at the fair and you can not get off or escape its effects regardless of the way you sit, stand or lay!  Vertigo is a sense of spinning or dizziness that last for days, weeks or months.  A traumatic brain injury can cause post-traumatic vertigo if there is damage to the sensory organs in the inner ear. the good news is it is not life threatening. Symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Disequilibrium – loss of stability

Your doctor is the only one who can diagnose post-traumatic vertigo and if you have suffered a concussion and are experiencing one or more of these symptoms seek medical treatment right away.

What type of injury and cause post-traumatic vertigo?

1) Crystals inside your inner ear are knocked out of place usually because of the impact to the head.  Treatment is required to get the crystals back in place.  Often the severe symptoms of this type of vertigo can be felt if someone gets up or lies down too quickly. Sometimes even just walking or standing can symptoms. This is called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

2) Fluid in the inner ear becomes unbalanced or there is bleeding in the ear.  Sometimes in addition to dizziness your may experience ringing ears, a sense of fullness in the ear or changes in hearing. This can be short lived or may last a few days.  In addition to therapy such as, rehabilitation or vestibular therapy, doctors may suggest diuretics, salt restrictions and medication. Called Post-Traumatic Meniere’s Disease or Traumatic Endolymphatic Hydrops

3) When there is damage to the inner ear as a result of a head injury. The symptoms are vertigo, balance problems, hearing loss, ringing of the ear, nausea and vomiting this is referred to as Labyrinthine or Inner Ear Concussion

The details of these types of injuries are best discussed with your doctor but hopefully this will help you prepare your questions at your appointment.

Post-Concussion syndrome

This is probably the most talked about complication and very complex.  The symptoms that appear within the first 7 to 10 days are:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Post-concussion headaches may feel like migraines or tension headaches which may be because the neck was injured at the same time. These symptoms can last for a year or longer. If you lose consciousness, have severe confusion or you can not remember the accident you should seek medical attention immediately.

Cumulative effects of multiple brain injuries

Someone who has experienced more than one traumatic brain injury over the course of time has a much greater risk of developing concussion complications that are progressive, and permanent impairment.  This is the greatest concern and is being actively studied.

Second Impact syndrome

This is rare but a very dangerous time when someone who may or may not have a concussion is exposed to a second blow to the head. Because the brain has not had time to heal, a second concussion in a short period of time can result in fatal brain swelling. It is so important that athletes never return until the signs and symptoms of a concussion are gone. It should be noted that this is not the same thing as a cumulative effect of multiple concussions.


There are many different types of concussions. This blog focuses on the basic understanding and an introduction to concussions. If you would like to learn more about the different types of concussions, please visit GF Strong Website Resources link. If you need information about insurance claims or settlement offers in regards to your head injury contact us for help.