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Super Bowl Special: Football and Migraines

It’s time to break out the nachos and put on your souvenir helmets: The Super Bowl is just days away. But if you’re planning on monitoring your migraine during the big game, you’re not the only one. Football players must be on the lookout for painful headaches as well.

In September 2011, University of Texas defensive back Nolan Brewster gave up the game, citing post-traumatic migraines and concussions that caused daily problems. “I started to worry about getting a migraine or a concussion with every hit,” he told NBC Sports. 1

They may be healthy and in shape, but football players and athletes in general are not immune to headaches. Athletes can experience several types of headaches as a result of activity, including:

  • Exertional/effort-related: Exertional headaches are precipitated by physical activity. It typically involves bilateral, throbbing pain and lasts 5 minutes to 24 hours. Prolonged exertion (as in a long game) could also trigger migraines that may continue after the game is over. And of course, helmets, dehydration and other aspects of the game could add to the list of triggers.2
  • Post-traumatic: Post-traumatic headaches are thought to be the result of an injury that actually alters brain function or structure.2 A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that temporarily alters the way the brain works.3 According to the National Headache Foundation, “concussion often results in a headache, but headaches due to a concussion will usually diminish with the passage of time.” However, if the headache becomes worse or is accompanied by drowsiness, it could be point to a hemorrhage between the skull and brain. This could be life threatening.

Athletes can take preventive measures to avoid triggers and treat symptoms. But in the case of someone like Brewster, it may be preferable to sit the bench or walk off the field altogether.



1. NBC Sports.

2. Medscape’s Seminars in Neurology.

3. National Institutes of Health.

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