Post-craniotomy headache: a clinical view with a focus on the persistent form

Headache. 2015 May;55(5):733-8. doi: 10.1111/head.12563. Epub 2015 Apr 22.


Background: Post-craniotomy headache is a frequent complication of neurosurgical procedures and is often a challenge for neurosurgeons, neurologists, and headache specialists.

Method: This was a narrative review.

Results: Surgical trauma, adherence of the musculature to the dura mater, peripheral nerve injury, development of neurinomas in the surgical scar, and central sensitization may be involved in the genesis of such headaches. Performing smaller craniotomies, replacement of the bone (craniotomy), performing cranioplasty, and infiltration of the surgical site with local anesthesia at the end of the surgical procedure are strategies used to prevent such headaches. Among the most frequent characteristics of post-craniotomy headaches are that they start on the first days after the operation, are located on the same side as and at the site of the surgical scar, and improve with the passage of time. Depression, anxiety, and temporomandibular disorders are frequently associated with these headaches. Abortive treatment such as opioids, ordinary analgesics, non-hormonal anti-inflammatory drugs, and triptans can be administered. There have been reports of improvements using sodium divalproex, verapamil, and local anesthetics.

Conclusions: Post-craniotomy headaches can have significant repercussions on patients' quality of life. There is a need for clinical trials evaluating therapeutic options for treatment of this type of headache.

Keywords: craniotomy; headache; neurosurgical procedure; pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Craniotomy / adverse effects*
  • Craniotomy / trends
  • Headache / diagnosis*
  • Headache / etiology*
  • Headache / therapy
  • Humans
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis*
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy


  • Analgesics