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TBI and Pain: How to Manage it

How to manage pain after a traumatic brain injury

Two Veterans talking about pain and TBI's at a VA medical centerDid you know that about half of the people being treated for TBI experience pain? A traumatic brain injury is a sudden jolt to your head that can change the way you think, act, feel, and move. Because TBI is caused by being hit, you may experience common symptoms like headaches and neck pain.

Learn why managing your pain is critical for your health and, most importantly, how to manage it.

Why managing your pain important

Pain, like headaches or aches, can keep you from participating in activities that help you heal, like exercise. Pain can also make common symptoms of a TBI worse. These include sleep problems, fatigue, slowed thinking, mood swings, anxiety, and depression. If you experience pain after a TBI, think about reaching out to your doctor via Secure Messaging (sign in required). They’ll work with you to get your pain under control.

How to manage TBI pain

Keep in mind that opiates or narcotics are usually not the answer. The first choice for pain medicine is what's called non-narcotic medicine, such as:

  • muscle relaxants

  • numbing medicines applied to the skin

  • over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen

Other important ways to manage pain include:

  • Get daily exercise for your body and your brain.

  • Learn to avoid too much stress and relax. Try listening to music, meditating, or deep breathing.

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

  • Take part in physical therapy to move your muscles and make them stronger.

  • Work with a mental health expert to reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Avoid foods and drinks that seem to trigger your headaches.

Living with less pain takes work

It's important to talk about your pain and seek the support of friends and loved ones. Pain from TBI will usually go away with time. Finding ways to manage pain is possible. Work with a doctor to help find ways to manage long-term pain yourself. Never treat pain with drugs or alcohol, and don't take pain medicines without doctor approval.

Let My HealtheVet help

Only you know your pain and what your limits are. Schedule an appointment with your doctor through VA Appointments if any of these make your pain worse. You will need a My HealtheVet Premium account to schedule an appointment online.

Read More

Managing Pain After TBI (Veterans Health Library)

Boost Your Brain Health After TBI

TBI Keeping You Awake?


Updated June 1, 2021