Recovering from a severe head injury 

When you're discharged from hospital, you'll be given information and advice to help your recovery at home.

Your recovery programme will depend on the exact nature of your injury, your individual needs and general health.

Advice for adults

If you're recovering from a severe head injury you may be advised to:

  • have someone stay with you for the first 24 hours and keep a phone to hand, in case any problems arise and you need medical help
  • get plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations
  • avoid drinking alcohol or taking illegal drugs
  • avoid taking sleeping pills, sedatives or tranquillisers (unless prescribed by your doctor)
  • take paracetamol if you have a headache, but avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin (unless prescribed by a doctor)
  • avoid playing contact sports, such as football or rugby, for at least three weeks, and speak to your doctor before starting to play these sports again
  • not return to work or school until you've completely recovered and feel well enough to do so
  • not drive a car or motorbike, ride a bicycle or operate machinery until you've completely recovered and it's safe and legal to do so

When to seek medical attention

You should seek immediate medical attention if you develop any further symptoms of a severe head injury while recovering at home.

Advice for children

If your child is recovering from a severe head injury, you may be advised to:

  • give them paracetamol if they have a headache, but avoid NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin (aspirin should never be given to children under the age of 16)
  • only give them light meals for the first day or two
  • avoid getting them too excited
  • avoid having too many visitors when they return home
  • not let them play contact sports until a doctor says it's safe to do so
  • not let them play roughly for a few days

Seek immediate medical attention if your child develops any further symptoms of a severe head injury while recovering at home. 

Follow-up appointments and rehabilitation

You may be advised to see your GP the week after you're discharged from hospital, so they can check how you're coping.

You may also have a number of follow-up appointments at a head injury clinic. These will usually be with a specialist, such as a neurologist (an expert in the brain and nervous system).

Depending on how your head injury has affected you, you may need various types of treatment to help with your recovery, such as:

  • physiotherapy – to help with physical problems such as weakness, stiffness or poor co-ordination
  • occupational therapy – to help you make changes in your home or workplace if you’re struggling with everyday tasks
  • speech therapy
  • psychological therapy – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you cope better if your injury has affected your mental wellbeing

Getting support

Headway, the brain injury association, is a charity that provides help and support to people affected by head injuries.

For more information about all aspects of head injuries, you can call the Headway helpline on 0808 800 2244. You can also email the helpline: helpline@headway.org.uk

Helpline staff can:

  • give you support and advice if you experience problems
  • help you find local rehabilitation services
  • advise you about other sources of support

You can also search for local Headway services. They offer a wide range of services, including rehabilitation programmes, carer support, social re-integration, community outreach and respite care (short-term support for someone who needs care – for example, to give the usual carer a break.)

Headway staff can't give medical advice. For this, see your GP or call NHS 111.


Driving after a head injury

A serious head injury may affect your ability to drive. You're legally required to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and your insurance company.

You won't be able to drive until you receive DVLA approval and your doctor has confirmed you've made a full recovery.

See the GOV.UK website for more information about driving with a health condition.

You can also read the Rica guide to motoring after a brain injury.

Page last reviewed: 12/01/2016

Next review due: 01/01/2019