Pounding Pain In The Back Of The Brain

Recently I was asked if I had ever experienced a momentary shot of pain to the back of my head after releasing a loud, high note. Fortunately I have not had that pleasure for some time now but I distinctly remember the experience. After releasing a loud, high note (usually in about two to five seconds), it feels as if something climbs up the back of your neck and hits you in the back of the brain with a couple of pulsating shots, then goes away. If this sounds familiar to you, I may be able to help.

Years ago I was having these hits occurring every time I held a long, loud high note. This usually happened when the leader of the band wanted to get the last bit of applause out of his audience, never considering that the trumpets were about to have brain seizures. After many bouts with the uncomfortable suffering, I realized that the hits (usually two or three in lessening severity) coincided with my pulse. When one came on, I would check my pulse and sure enough, the multiple shots of pain were in sync with my pulse.

  • Important information #1- the pain had something to do with the blood flow to the brain.
  • Important information #2- my neck bulged when playing high and loud notes for an extended time.
  • Important information #3- the swelling in my throat could be restricting the blood flow in the arteries running through my neck.

Conclusion- The expansion in the throat due to the sustained pressure in the throat restricts the blood flow to the brain and in turn starves the brain of blood until the note is released and the blood, which has been previously restricted, is released and the sudden surge of blood to the brain causes the pulsating pain which decreases in intensity.

Now that we know how this happens, what can we do to alleviate the pain?

I wish I could tell you that I struggled for days trying to come up with the solution to this uncomfortable experience but to be 100% truthful; I discovered the solution completely by accident. During one of these painful moments, by accident, I lowered my chin tight to my chest. I was probably getting set for the rush of blood to my brain. For some reason, the discomfort did not occur. Luckily I noted this change and every time I anticipated the creepy, crawly thing running up the back of my neck, I quickly tilted my head down as far as possible, stretching the back of my neck and would hold that pose for at least five to ten seconds. After returning my head to a more normal position, I was relieved to find that I did not experience the normal shots to the back of my head.

If you have experienced this discomfort, try these steps to get rid of the pain-

  • Upon the release of your high, loud note, tuck you head as deep into your chest as you can.
  • Hold that position for about five seconds. You should feel the stretching of the back of your neck as you hold the position.
  • Slowly bring you head up.

My hypothesis as to why this is effective is this- As the blood is restricted in the throat area, the brain is temporarily starved for blood. This is why many times players pass out after the note ends. As the blood is released, the shock of this rush of blood affects the brain by sending sharp pain to your senses. By tucking your head deep into your chest, you are slowing down the surge of blood to a slower speed which the brain can manage more easily. In other words, by tucking your chin, you are equalizing the pressure to a more acceptable level.

My hypothesis may be completely wrong, but I do know that the exercise did work for me and it is my hope that it may give you some relief from the painful experience.

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

5 thoughts on “Pounding Pain In The Back Of The Brain

  1. Jen Houck

    Very interesting. I haven’t had pains in the back of my head but I do have heart pounding sometimes and both of my ears clog up! Probably has something to do with Georgia humidity.

    • Bruce Chidester

      It usually comes on in most people when they sustain a high and loud note and then release it. I haven’t had this problem for many years, but when you get it, it hurts. Dipping the head to the chest is the only way I have known to help.

      Good hearing from you again. Hope all is well with you and yours.

  2. Kristin

    I played trumpet in middle and high school and don’t remember having this problem. I was even first chair and played high notes most of the time. But its been a couple years since I last played and I’ve been trying to practice all week for an ensemble at church. Most of the songs have pretty high notes and as soon as I start to play anything above a “third space” C I get really dizzy, my heart pounds, my head pounds, and my chest pounds and its all very painful. I keep thinking the more I practice it will get better but it’s almost unbearable and I don’t want to hurt myself. Any advice? šŸ™

    • Bruce Chidester

      Sound as if you may have a problem with insecurity in the upper register…..or…..
      usually heart pounding , head pounding and chest pounding could be related to blood pressure issues and that would be my second choice.
      Be sure to check you blood pressure before and after this happens.

      If you do not have any issues with playing the high notes and you feel comfortable doing so, the bood pressure is something you need to check.

      If your blood pressure increases when you are playing high notes, I would explain this to your family physician at once.

      Let me know what you find out and get back to me for there could be other causes. But first be sure the blood pressure is not the cause.

      Congratulations on returning to the fold and the best to you and yours from the Branson Trumpet Ensemble.

  3. lili

    Two months ago I had the same kind of pain in the back of my head . CTA discovered the aneurysm located along the tract of right PCA.
    Big Thanks to God and doctors In BC Canada I’m 100% OK now ,after I had emergency surgery and I’m fully recover .
    PLEASE take care of that problem and check your head on CT .
    all the best !

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