More than 1.7 million people in the US are affected annually by concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), and often concussion and cervicalgia headaches go hand in hand. Around 15% of people with concussion have symptoms that persist for three months or more, and sometimes patients don’t realize that neck and head pain are related to the earlier injury. This is especially true of people who have a minor bump or experience of whiplash on top of earlier head injuries.
Caring for people with concussion-related problems in the US costs nearly $17 billion each year, almost as much as is spent on caring for people with low back pain (around $20 billion annually). Typically, concussion and cervicalgia headaches occur in younger, more active people, often as a result of involvement in sports like hockey and football. However, concussion can also affect people who simply slip in the shower, or fall on ice in winter.
Symptoms of Concussion
Determining the symptoms of concussion can be difficult as imaging studies may fail to reveal clear structural anomalies that tie headaches or cognitive deficit to an earlier injury. Microhaemorrhages in the brain may lead to symptoms such as cervicalgia headaches, or fatigue, as well as increased sensitivity to light and sound.
Common symptoms of concussion include:
- Sleep-wake problems
- Vestibulopathy (problems with hearing and balance)
- Ocular dysfunction (vision problems)
- Cervicalgia (neck pain)
Newer imaging techniques, such as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) has helped improve assessment of concussion as this is a more sensitive form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that can detect changes in the microstructures of white matter in the brain. Specifically, DTI detects changes in the flow of water in white matter, giving physicians a chance to see how axons (nerve cells) are lined up in the brain. Where there are changes in typical water flow, this can suggest that the white matter in the brain is less coherent than it should be, possibly explaining cognitive deficits.
Results from DTI have been found to correlate well with clinical findings of cognitive dysfunction in cases of mTBI, making it a useful tool for anyone with concussion and cervicalgia headaches accompanied by cognitive changes. Figuring out precisely how changes in the white matter relate to specific symptoms has proven more difficult, with some studies noting a relationship between DTI results showing issues in the corticospinal tract or occipital cortex and memory problems, and others finding no such strong correlation.
Differentiating Symptoms of Concussion and Cervicalgia Headaches
New studies have found that it may be possible to differentiate symptoms of chronic injuries from acute injuries in the brains of people experiencing numerous concussions. Specifically, white matter injuries found using DTI are thought more likely to be chronic, while injury in the auditory cortex is typically acute. As concussion sufferers often experience hearing problems this correlates well with clinical symptoms.
The use of this kind of new imaging is helping physicians to see that instead of all being related to the same specific injury symptoms of concussion and cervicalgia headaches may be a result of injuries to different areas of the brain.
Although many people don’t realize it, concussion and cervicalgia headaches can be a result of any whiplash injury, including falls and car accidents. Sometimes symptoms don’t arise until several days after an accident, meaning that people dismiss them as unrelated issues. Getting checked out after an accident is essential, as is monitoring for symptoms of concussion which may indicate a more severe neurological issue.