Last updated on April 2019

A Prospective Controlled Treatment Trial for Post-Traumatic Headaches


Brief description of study

Post-traumatic headaches (PTH) are the most common complaint after traumatic brain injury, possibly generated by a number of stressors to the trigeminovascular and cervical plexus networks, including inflammation of the high cervical facet joints, traumatic cranial neuralgias, migraines, and myofascial injuries. To date, no treatment guidelines exist for PTH management except for conservative modalities, such as cognitive rest, physical therapy, and neuropathic pain medications, all of which have minimal evidence to support them.

The investigators propose a randomized, controlled, clinical trial and prospective follow-up study to evaluate the effect of invasive procedures such as occipital nerve block (ONB) and cervical medial branch block (CMBB) in the management of PTH.

Adolescents and young adults (14-35 years of age) will be recruited from Boston Children's Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Pain clinics, Concussion clinics and Headache clinics.

Detailed Study Description

Headaches and neck pain following a concussion are potentially treatable and resolve over time. Nerve blockade may enhance the recovery of appropriate neural circuits involved in the pathophysiology of a chronic headache. Currently, no evidence-based guidelines exist for treatment of PTH. Adoption of "brain rest" for 1-2 weeks, followed by gradual return to activity and avoiding "second-impact syndrome" are current practice. The use of medications controlling neuropathic pain is of partial benefit for some. Adverse effects like sedation, mood changes, cardiac side effects of pharmacologic agents are often not compatible with the demands of athletics. For those patients where sports performance is paramount, they may therefore not be able to tolerate regular medications. The incidence of chronic post-concussive headaches (> 3 months) at one year is 8.4% - 35% and at four years is up to 25%. Therefore, patients can have a significant disability from their post-traumatic headaches for many years after their injury. Without appropriate treatment, these headaches can remain as chronic headaches. Over-the-counter and other symptomatic medication overuse can exacerbate and prolong PTH significantly, secondary to rebound headaches. Successful treatment is essential since PTH limits return to sports as well as more general activities of living, such as work and school. Most interventions currently in use partially help and take several weeks to months for a noticeable benefit. PTH interventions, including ONB and CMBB, are employed in the treatment of primary headache disorders and neck pain from cervical arthritis and may provide more improved, faster and more sustained pain relief in many patients. Also, given that most of the action of the nerve blocks is local, there are significantly fewer side effects than in more standard headache medications. Injections that use corticosteroids may be beneficial in a post-traumatic headache by reducing inflammation and therefore mechanical allodynia. Injection of corticosteroids in the cervical facet joint area has shown up to 13 months of pain relief. This prolonged effect may be secondary to central pain modulation. Ultimately, nerve blocks may be a more effective and efficient post-traumatic headache given the onset of effect and the minimal side effects.

To date, there have been no prospective studies of procedural treatments for medically refractory PTH and none in the adolescent and young adult population in whom football injuries are common. Despite the frequent clinical practice of using ONB and CMBB for occipital neuralgia, cervical arthritis, and cervicogenic headaches, there has been no adequate scientific investigation into the use of these interventions for PTH. Given that PTH is typically felt to be secondary to an inflammatory reaction to trauma, the use of injection of corticosteroids may be more effective in PTH than in common headache disorders.

The investigators propose a randomized, prospective, controlled treatment trial to evaluate the efficacy of minimally invasive nerve block interventions (ONB and CMBB) as treatments for PTH and neck pain in adolescents and adults aged 14-35 years of age with PTH.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03007420

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Recruitment Status: Open


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