Concussion: The 16-Year Headache

PHILADELPHIA—Chris Nowinski, PhD, was a star football player at Harvard University in his time. After graduation, he became a professional wrestler for the WWE. Needless to say, he has had his fair share of concussions over the years.

In 2002, he had his breaking point. After a wrestling stunt went wrong, he developed severe headaches that occurred frequently. Though, he admits, he did not report his headaches to his management team due to the stigma: “It just isn’t talked about in sports. It is a controversial topic in the sports world,” Dr Nowinski said during his session.

It was not until a few weeks later, after an incident in which he was unable to wake from a dream he was acting out, that he reported his symptoms to WWE management. From that point on, neurologists were trying to treat his “16-year headache.” He finally received accurate treatment and has since been managing his headaches.

But, Dr Nowinski explained, it was not so easy for others with post-concussive headache (PCH) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In his keynote session at the American Headache Society’s 61st Annual Scientific Meeting, he spoke about his struggles with PCH, shared a few videos of others who experience crippling headaches, and ended with a plea for “Pledge Your Brain.”

He also spoke about the current research around CTE and headache; there is not a lot of knowledge out there, he said. But what is known is that headache is the most common symptom of concussion—even 2 weeks after the event— that not many people recover from PCH, and that suicide is very common among individuals with headache.

To close his session, Dr Nowinski spoke about the Brain Bank established by the Concussion Legacy Foundation, of which Dr Nowinski is a co-founder. He encouraged the audience to reach out to him and the foundation with any challenging patient cases or questions about treating patients with PCH or CTE. His email address is

—Amanda Balbi


Nowinski C. Concussion. Talk presented at: American Headache Society 61st Annual Scientific Meeting; July 11-14, 2019; Philadelphia, PA.