My brother is a cyclist. Recently, he had an accident and sustained a blow to his head. He did not have any other symptoms and dismissed it as a minor injury. Months later, he comes to me saying, “I hit my head and it hurts when I touch it. Should I be worried?” He is still experiencing pain months after his injury.
Has this ever occurred to you? Have you ever experienced a head injury, and months later, it still hurts whenever you touch it? It makes you wonder how long the pain will last and whether it ever goes away.
Injuries caused by a blow to the head are commonly attributable to motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, physical assaults, or falls. For the most part, your skull will protect your brain from serious harm. However, there are rare instances where the blow is hard enough to traverse this protective barrier and injure the brain.
Some serious injuries are:
- Concussion – A concussion is an injury to the head area that may cause instant loss of awareness or alertness for a few minutes up to a few hours after the traumatic event.
- Subconcussion. This is a minor form of concussion.
- Skull fracture. A skull fracture is a break in the skull bone due to a high impact blow.
- Intracranial hematoma (ICH). Hematomas are blood clots. They can form in areas in or around the brain. These can range from mild head injuries to quite serious and potentially life-threatening injuries. The different types are classified by their location in the brain.
The symptoms you experience right after the injury would give you a rough estimate of the severity of your injury. The symptoms can be broken down into four categories:
- Pain: Headaches that are throbbing, burning or prickling in nature.
- Cognition: Impaired memory and concentration.
- Sleep: Insomnia, drowsiness and hypersomnolence.
- Emotions: Irritability, sadness, and anger.
- Others: Difficulty keeping balance, dizziness, impaired vision, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, photophobia and sensitivity to noises.
Oftentimes, a minor hit to the head may be dismissed as something mild. However, it would help if you always were on the lookout for the first 24 hours after the injury. When someone tells you, “I hit my head and it hurts when I touch it,” make sure you check on them regularly and watch out for any signs of confusion or loss of memory.
In a more serious setting, one might even experience loss of consciousness or an episode of seizure. If they experience any of these symptoms, or if the pain persists, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately.
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Signs of a serious head injury that warrant medical attention
- Decrease in mental status or neurological function
- Extreme drowsiness or the inability to be fully awakened
- Having one pupil that is larger than the other
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Worsening headache
- Loss of consciousness
- Repetitive vomiting
- Significant neck pain
- Blurring of vision
- Photophobia (Sensitivity to light)
- Seizure or convulsions
- Slurred speech
Home remedies to treat minor injuries
Milder forms of head injury are bumps, swelling, or redness. If you hit your head and it hurts when you touch it and feel a tiny bump on your head, it is probably just a minor injury that will disappear with time. There are a few home remedies that might help soothe the pain.
- Applying a cold pack to the area can reduce the swelling and soothe the pain.
- Pain killers may be taken for the pain. Tylenol is an example of analgesic that might be taken. Try to avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin unless prescribed by a doctor.
- Do not engage in heavy physical activities or sports and try to get ample rest.
- Stay hydrated.
- Reduce screen time.
- Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
I hit my head and it hurts when I touch it: How long does it take to recover?
Like most injuries, one of the biggest factors in determining the amount of time for recovery is the severity of the injury. Minor head injuries usually take less than a week to heal. More severe injuries may take a longer time to heal. A concussion recovery takes about 7 to 10 days. Recovery time may take a little longer if you don’t get enough rest or follow your doctor’s recommendations. Recovery time also varies with people.
Factors that delay recovery
- Age. Injuries in the elderly generally take a longer time to fully heal.
- Pre-existing conditions. A pre-existing neurological condition or a history of concussion may delay recovery.
- Gender. Females are more prone to having a longer recovery time than males. The exact theory behind this is unknown.
- Commencing physical activities too soon. Those who perform strenuous activities too soon after a concussion are reported to have a longer recovery time.
How are head injuries diagnosed?
When you hit your head, and it hurts when you touch it, the full extent of the injury may not be apparent immediately. Further medical evaluation and diagnostic testing would be required. During the examination, the doctor obtains a complete medical history and how the injury occurred. They may also ask questions or do tests to check a person’s memory and cognition.
Doctors would perform physical examinations to assess neurological functions and check if you have any weakness or loss of sensation in your limbs. Further diagnostic tests are warranted if they suspect an injury to the brain.
Some tests include:
- Blood tests
- X-ray. A radiologic test that uses electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
- Computed tomography (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce images of the body. A CT shows detailed images of a particular part of the body. They are more detailed than x-rays.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG). This test records the brain's electrical activity. It is done by attaching electrodes to the scalp.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
A concussion is an injury that causes a sudden movement to your brain. It is usually caused by trauma to the head, but it can occur if a blow to the body is hard enough to cause the head to move violently. It temporarily stops the brain from functioning normally.
Concussion symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the severity of the injury. Subconcussion is a minor form of concussion.
Sometimes, people develop a condition called a post-concussive syndrome. Post-concussive syndrome is a condition where concussion symptoms persist for more than 6 weeks. This condition is rare after a single concussion. Its probability increases with each concurrent concussion.
Two main theories have been proposed to explain post-concussive syndrome, which are:
- Structural damage to the brain or disruption of the messaging system within the nerves, caused by the impact to the brain.
- Psychological factors. The most common symptoms of post-concussive syndrome which are headache, dizziness and sleep problems are similar to symptoms experienced by people with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In most cases, both physical damage of brain trauma and emotional reactions to these effects play a combined role in developing symptoms.
How can I speed up concussion recovery?
The more severe the damage, the longer it will take for the injury to recover fully. When you hit your head, and it hurts when you touch it, there are a few tips to help speed up the recovery, which includes:
The most important thing to do to ensure proper recovery is to rest. This includes physical and mental rest. Avoid all strenuous activities, including sports, swimming, and driving. Allotting adequate time to relax is essential as even a little exertion can interfere with your brain’s healing if done too soon.
Any form of physical or mental strain can increase your chances of a repeat injury and prolong healing. Mental rest is also necessary. Try to avoid screen time and any stressful situations. It may also be a good idea to take some time off work or school.
Consuming a nutritious and well-balanced diet promotes healing and can speed up your recovery. Load up on foods that are rich in proteins, fats, and vitamins. Limit consumption of dairy products, processed meat, and sugar-dense foods.
Exercise is typically avoided to prevent concussion symptoms. But research has shown that light exercise is a promising therapy for concussions. Low-impact, non-contact aerobic exercises are recommended to speed up the recovery.
Avoid alcohol consumption
Abstain from alcohol for a minimum of two weeks after a concussion. Even a tiny amount of alcohol after a concussion can significantly impair your judgment and delay recovery. Alcohol can also cause neuroinflammation that directly impairs your recovery.
After a concussion, your brain has less energy to spare than it customarily does. Everything now takes up a little more energy than before. This can make you feel tired and exhausted even if you are not doing much at all. Headaches and forgetfulness can make you upset or irritable.
Be patient with yourself, and remember, trying to resume your normal activities too soon may be detrimental. It is okay to take a break for a while, as resting will speed up your recovery.
How long after you hit your head should it stop hurting?
On average, symptoms from head injuries resolve themselves in 2 to 4 weeks. However, if headaches worsen, limiting your function, or if you start experiencing other symptoms, it would be appropriate to go for a re-evaluation by your physician.
How do you know if it’s serious when you hit your head?
Symptoms that suggest a severe head injury include extreme drowsiness, worsening headache, numbness or tingling sensation, significant neck pain, blurred vision, photophobia, seizures or convulsions, slurred speech, repetitive vomiting, and loss of vision consciousness.
Is it normal to have pain after hitting your head?
Pain is a normal physiological response to injury. It is normal to experience pain after a head injury. However, prolonged pain may indicate something more severe and should be investigated.
Head injuries are very individualized injuries. There isn’t a one size fits all approach in determining when someone will fully recover after they hit their head. Symptoms may show up immediately or even months later. Some may have a mild concussion that heals on its own within days, while others may have a trauma that causes headaches for weeks.
On average, recovery time is expected to range between 2 to 4 weeks. During this time, it is essential to avoid any strenuous activities or anything that strains your mind to ensure a complete and prompt recovery.
What to expect in the long term?
The outlook depends on the severity of your injury. Most people with a concussion experience a full recovery with no lasting consequences. Those with severe brain injuries may face permanent changes in their memory, physical abilities, and cognition on rare occasions.
Your healthcare team will work with you to ensure that you regain full recovery. Follow your doctor’s advice and get as much rest as possible. Providing your brain recovers properly from a concussion is the wisest thing you can do.
The next time someone tells you, “I hit my head and it hurts when I touch it,” advise them to get enough rest and immediately seek medical attention if the pain worsens or they experience any other severe symptoms that have been mentioned above. Never write it off as something minor because brain damage has severe long-term complications.