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IUPUI researcher to study cause of chronic post-traumatic headaches

March 29, 2016

An assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the IU School of Physical Education and Tourism Management at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has been awarded a grant to study the role of deficient pain modulatory systems on chronic post-traumatic headaches afflicting hundreds of thousands of people with mild traumatic brain injuries.

Kelly M. Naugle, an assistant professor and director of the Pain and Physical Activity Laboratory in the Department of Kinesiology on the IUPUI campus, received the $152,000 grant from the Indiana Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Fund.

More than one million adults and nearly half a million children suffer a traumatic brain injury each year in the United States. About 79 percent of those injuries among adults and 75 percent of the injuries among children are classified as mild traumatic brain injuries.

Among those patients, the prevalence rate for chronic post-traumatic headache ranges from 47 to 95 percent. "Post-traumatic headache" is defined as a secondary headache that develops within seven days after the head trauma. It is regarded as chronic when it continues for more than two months. Headaches lasting over a year occur in 71 percent to 91 percent of the patients.

The headaches are one of the worst, most prominent and longest-lasting consequences of mild traumatic brain injury, Naugle said: "It seriously complicates rehabilitative efforts."

Despite the high prevalence of chronic post-traumatic headaches and their impact on quality of life, studies on the characteristics and pathophysiology of chronic post-traumatic headache are scarce.

As a result, the most effective preventive and treatment options remain unclear, Naugle said.

The reason for conducting the study, Naugle said, is that identifying risk and protective factors for chronic post-traumatic headache is crucial for developing effective preventive and therapeutic strategies for this common, debilitating symptom.

A total of 40 adults, ages 18 to 39, and 40 adolescents, ages 12 to 17, with mild traumatic brain injuries that resulted from an injury to the head from blunt trauma or from acceleration or deceleration forces will be enrolled in the study.

The proposed research will use state-of-the-art quantitative sensory testing to investigate potential maladaptive changes in the central and peripheral nervous systems as predictors of the headache.

"To the best of our knowledge, this project will be the first to longitudinally evaluate the role of central sensitization and endogenous pain inhibitory function in the development of chronic headaches following mild TBI," Naugle said.

Indiana University

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