Back to Top Skip to main content

DVBIC study focuses on concussion-related headaches

Soldier (center) standing at attention receives an award pinned to their uniform, from a soldier standing directly before her, with a soldier standing at attention to one side. A long building is seen in the background with two flagpoles, one flying the US flag. Stephanie Ehlers is awarded a Purple Heart on April 8, 2007 for injuries sustained in Iraq. She had bilateral perforations of the eardrums and a TBI. (Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Ehlers)

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | September Toolkit

Headaches are the most common form of pain, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. 

Service members with concussion-related headaches often experience more frequent and severe pain compared to those with headaches unrelated to this condition, according to recently published data from the Warrior Strong Study. This multi-year research project was conducted by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, a division of the Defense Health Agency Research and Development Directorate.

Headaches remain the most frequently reported symptom among service members who have sustained concussions, also known as mild traumatic brain injuries. Seventy-four percent of participants in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom had post-traumatic headaches within 30 days of sustaining a concussion, as reported by DVBIC.

Between 2009 and 2015, DVBIC researchers surveyed more than 1,500 soldiers, and then followed up with them after three months, then again after six months, and finally, a year later.

“We wanted to find out how active-duty soldiers were doing after coming back from the war zone with concussion,” said Karen Schwab, DVBIC researcher and the study’s principal investigator. Ultimately, the findings may inform DVBIC’s future clinical recommendations and guidelines in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of concussions in the U.S. armed forces.

In total, researchers interviewed 1,567 soldiers from combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq during post deployment health assessments at Fort Carson, Colorado and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Participants answered 31 headache-related questions to help researchers identify post-traumatic headaches. The soldiers were asked about how frequent and how painful their headaches were, compared to before they deployed, and if their headaches changed after an injury, illness, or some other event during deployment.

Of the 1,094 soldiers who reported headaches, 557 had also experienced concussions. For soldiers whose headaches were related to their concussion, symptoms were more severe and more often led to medical consultation, compared to the group whose headaches were unrelated to TBI.

Post-traumatic headaches often resemble migraines, a painful sensation in the head often associated with nausea and sensitivity to light, among other symptoms.

Notably, the gender composition of the Warrior Strong study differed markedly from studies of migraine headaches in civilian populations. Overall, 91% of the Warrior Strong participants and 94% of those with concussions were male. By contrast, civilian clinical studies on migraines are performed on groups that are around 80% women, a reflection of the demographic fact that adult women are two-to-three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.

“The evidence base for treating headaches is not specific to post-traumatic headaches. And it may or may not be relevant for treating them. We really don’t know,” said Ann Scher, a professor of epidemiology at Uniformed Services University and the study’s corresponding author.

While there are no specific drug therapies for post-traumatic headaches approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the study results could lead to the design of clinical trials and the development of targeted pharmaceutical remedies, Scher said.

Fortunately, there are multiple behavior changes and medical modalities to treat and reduce the severity of post-traumatic headaches; these include improving sleep patterns, muscle relaxation, anxiety reducing techniques, physical therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and acupuncture.

To help patients in their care, DVBIC developed the Headache Virtual Suite to offer health care providers a step-by-step process to determine the type of post-traumatic headaches and guidance on its evaluation and treatment.

After her second TBI, former soldier Stephanie Ehlers was told by her medical provider to rest for 24 hours without providing additional therapeutic guidance. When her TBI was more accurately diagnosed a few years later, the former Army Medical Service Corps officer learned various coping methods that set her on the road to recovery.

Ehlers, who also described her experiences as part of DVBIC’s educational campaign called ‘A Head for the Future’, concluded by stating, “Early identification and early treatment of TBI is so important.”

You also may be interested in...

Progressive Return to Activity After Concussion Video

Video
2/25/2021
DHA Seal

The PRA is an evidence-based, easy-to-use approach to help providers return service members with mild TBIs back to duty safely. TBICoE researchers have found that, if medical providers completed a two-hour, in-person training on the use of the PRA, their patients saw an overall reduction in symptoms after one week, one month, and three months, when compared to patients treated by providers who had not received the training.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Provider Resources | TBI Educators | Traumatic Brain Injury | Brain Injury Awareness Month | TBI Resources | TBI Screening

Sleep and TBI

Video
2/8/2021
DHA Seal

Sleep disturbances are common for service members and veterans following a mild TBI, also known as concussion.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | TBI Educators | Patient and Family Resources | Provider Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI Champion Gary Moran

Video
11/17/2020
TBI Champion Gary Moran

SGM Gary D. Moran shares his TBI recovery story, and tips for talking to kids about TBI.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future | Patient and Family Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI Champions Roxana Delgado & Victor Medina

Video
11/17/2020
TBI Champions Roxana Delgado & Victor Medina

While he was deployed, retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Victor Medina was in a vehicle that was hit by an explosive device. He sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that severely impaired some of his physical functions and ability to speak. Medina’s wife, Roxana Delgado, continued her pursuit of a Ph.D. in health sciences and became his caregiver. As they adjusted to a life neither one of them had imagined, their marriage became a new kind of partnership.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | A Head for the Future | Traumatic Brain Injury

Find Your Story: TBI Champions

Video
11/16/2020
Find Your Story: TBI Champions

In this video, A Head for the Future’s TBI Champions share their experiences with traumatic brain injury and resources that helped them through recovery. They can help you too.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future

TBI Champion Micah Norgard

Video
11/16/2020
TBI Champion Micah Norgard

After 12 years as an infantryman, Norgard's biggest battle was recognizing the cumulative effects of multiple TBIs.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future

TBI Champion Derek Poor

Video
11/16/2020
TBI Champion Derek Poor

While instructing hand-to-hand combat training, U.S. Army Special Forces veteran Derek Poor slammed his head against a wall and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Seeing stars and unable to shake his persistent, daily headaches, Poor sought help.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future | Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI Champion Dalton Mask

Video
11/16/2020
TBI Champion Dalton Mask

Facing a long road to recovery following his TBI, Dalton remained positive and participated in the 2019 Warrior Games.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future | Traumatic Brain Injury

Talking TBI: Going Back to School

Video
11/16/2020
Talking TBI: Going Back to School

Marine Corps veteran Chris shares his experience going back to school following his TBI.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future | Patient and Family Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury

Talking TBI: Talking to Kids

Video
11/16/2020
Talking TBI: Talking to Kids

While on patrol in Iraq, former U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Gary Moran was knocked unconscious by an improvised explosive device, resulting in a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Gary and his son discuss how TBI affected their relationship early on and ultimately brought them closer together.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources | A Head for the Future

TBI Champion Beth King

Video
11/16/2020
TBI Champion Beth King

Army veteran Beth King was on a routine mission when her helicopter was struck by an RPG, ultimately resulting in a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In this video, Beth shares the impact of her TBI and how she discovered her new passion along the way — recumbent biking.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future | Traumatic Brain Injury

Talking TBI: Connect with Others

Video
11/16/2020
Talking TBI: Connect with Others

Navy veteran Amanda Burrill and Army veteran Elana Duffy had a few things in common: They both lived in New York City, experienced traumatic brain injuries (TBI) while in service and were coping with the injuries alone. Until they met each other.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | A Head for the Future | Patient and Family Resources | Traumatic Brain Injury

MACE 2 Provider Training Video

Video
9/29/2020
MACE 2 Provider Training Video

This video illustrates how to conduct a MACE 2 training event. This video supports the MACE 2 and its training materials created by the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Traumatic Brain Injury | Provider Resources

Concussion: Know the Symptoms

Video
3/12/2019
Concussion: Know the Symptoms

A racquetball game goes wrong when one player slips and hits his head. He thinks he's OK and his partner isn’t sure what to do about it.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury

Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center Celebrates 25 Years

Video
3/12/2018
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center Celebrates 25 Years

Katherine Helmick, DVBIC acting national director, discusses DVBIC achievements and goals to advance service members' health care. DVBIC honors 25 years of military health care by continued dedication to research and treatment of traumatic brain injury.

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury
<< < 1 2 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 2

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.