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Okay, now that we have all introduced ourselves let’s begin by talking about how to manage some of the effects of TBI. Michelle tell us a little bit more about how Tom is doing.

Well, he is talking more, and beginning to recognize people. He waved at his doctor, and he seemed to remember his physical therapist that he had seen just only a few times before. Some people may think these are just little things, but after what we’ve been through, it’s definitely progress.

That’s great! And all of those small steps will add up. With Sam, we just didn’t know what to expect. We weren’t given a very positive prognosis, so when he said his first word, we were amazed. We know how significant those first steps are. That is great Michelle.

Travis, how do you feel about the progress your dad is making?

I don’t know…It…it scares me. I mean sure he’s making this progress, he’s talking more and he recognizing a few more people…but to me he's still confused a lot. And he’s still in pain a lot of the time…I know that his head hurts and I just want the pain to stop…

Yeah. It’s tough to see someone you love in pain. When Sam was first waking up, his head hurt all the time. We just felt so helpless because we didn’t know what to do…

Sure. Well as you all have experienced, a TBI can affect so many aspects of a person’s life. What we’re going to cover next are some of the things that you, as a caregiver, can do to help that loved one when it comes to specific symptoms. Now this information will be particularly helpful when your family member comes home from the hospital. Since Sam has recently come home, Carl and Julie, we’d appreciate your input on this, if you wouldn’t mind sharing some of the things that you’ve learned.


Now keep in mind that your family member is likely to experience some, but not all, of these effects. I mean many effects are common right after the injury; you may have already noticed them. And many are likely to improve over time. But though we know more now about TBI than ever before, no one can say with certainty just what effects each injured person will have.

So we do know that most people with TBI can and will make improvements. I mean of course, with the proper diagnosis, the treatment, the follow-up care... they’re so important, but so are the supportive family and the community.

You said many effects are common. What kind of effects are you talking about, Tracy?

Well, since we’ve been talking about headaches, let’s start there. Some people have headaches most of the time, others headaches just come and go. There’s fatigue, there’s stress... a history of migraines make those headaches worse. But now the doctor will of course will prescribe medications for your loved one and possibly some other options for later in the recovery.

What other options are there?

Since Sam had so many severe headaches early on we tried several things. What worked for him were acupuncture and exercise.

Yeah, but we didn’t start out with those treatments. First, we tried medication. That didn’t completely get rid of them, so we talked to Sam’s doctor. He suggested stress management, like deep breathing and lying down in a dark and quiet place during a headache. So Sam tried that, along with the acupuncture and exercise.

Well Carl and Julie just mentioned several strategies for headaches.  Depending on where your loved one is in the recovery process, those strategies can change. Another thing to consider is to give your family member some guidance in terms of behavior. For example, encourage him to avoid bright sunlight, wear dark sunglasses. Also, obviously avoiding alcohol, foods that trigger headaches like cold foods, some cheeses, chocolate... things like that.

When a headache does occur, keep track of it in your journal. Note the time of the day, the activity that he was doing, also the intensity of the pain. And if the headaches don’t improve or if they get worse, let a member of the health care team know right away.


Headaches are common following TBI. Some people have a headache all the time, and some people’s headaches come and go.

Fatigue, stress, and a history of migraines make these headaches worse.

Fortunately, post-TBI headaches usually improve over time.

Treatment Options:

Medication: It can take some trial and error to find the right medicine to treat post-TBI headaches. Your family member should take all medications exactly as the doctor directs. He or she should talk with the doctor before changing how much medicine he or she takes, or how often.

Other options: Stretching and strengthening exercises may help. Follow the directions of the health care team on these. Exercise, such as swimming in warm water, can help loosen the muscles that cause headaches. Acupuncture, occipital nerve blocks, biofeedback, Botox©, and physical therapy are possible treatments.

How you can help:

  • Ask your service member/veteran to lie down in a dark and quiet place; sleep can relieve a headache.
  • Use heat or ice as directed by the doctor.
  • Encourage your family member to: 
    • Avoid bright sunlight, especially going from a dark building into bright sunlight (may need to wear very dark sunglasses).
    • Avoid alcohol.
    • Avoid foods that trigger headaches. These include cold foods, aged hard cheeses, or chocolate.
    • Manage stress. Take breaks during activities, practice deep breathing exercises, exercise, and have some fun.
    • Keep track of headaches in a journal. Note the time of day, the activity, and intensity of the pain.  Share this information with the doctor.
    • Take medications at the same time every day.

If headaches do not improve or worsen, call the doctor. Your service member/veteran does not need to suffer. New treatment options can be tried. Your family member may be referred to a headache specialist (such as a neurologist) if headaches do not improve with standard treatment.

Related Information:
Other Physical Effects
Frequently Asked Questions
"He really won’t tell me the whole story because I think he doesn’t want to scare me. But, he brought me a piece of metal back home that was embedded in the wall right behind him. He said it missed his head by a few inches. He said that he thanks God every day that he’s still alive, and that’s why he brought the piece of metal home, to show me that that’s how close he had come to dying." -  Lynn C-S.



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