I hit my head several times a week. How do I stop?
June 25, 2014 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I hit my head frequently, on the order of several times a week. Usually it's something like straightening up into the freezer door after looking in the fridge. About 25% of the time I get a bad headache afterwards. I'd really like this to stop.

Some snowflakes: I wear glasses and the field of vision around the lenses is blurry, but I have this issue even with contacts where my peripheral vision is presumably unaffected. I'm currently living in an angled attic room and hit my head about once a day on on the sloping walls, but that situation is temporary and will be ending soon. I had an honest-to-god diagnosed mild concussion in 2009, when the heavy trunk door of my car fell about a foot onto my head, and went to the ER after a couple days of blurred vision and headaches. They didn't seem to think a CAT scan was necessary. About a year ago I straightened up into a concrete ceiling and slept for much of the subsequent two days, but didn't go to the doctor as I was not employed and didn't see the point of being told to get some rest. I have issues with migraines and vertigo, but haven't really had vertigo attacks for several years.

Is this a balance, inattention, medical issue? In the short term, how can I stop zoning out and forgetting that there is something heavy and immovable above my head? What modifications might help my environment?
posted by ziggly to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
When was the last time your eyes were checked for glaucoma? Glaucoma narrows your field of vision... and it can be really hard to notice because it only vanishes little by little.
posted by Andrhia at 11:05 AM on June 25, 2014

I had an eye exam in January, everything checked out. This has been an ongoing issue that seems to have worsened recently.
posted by ziggly at 11:10 AM on June 25, 2014

This is not normal and sounds like something to get checked out with a doctor. Specifically I'm thinking of vertigo or proprioceptive deficits, although I'm sure there are lots of other options. Even if there isn't a positive diagnosis, your doctor may be able to refer you to an occupational therapist or PT who could help you.

In the meantime, while you're at home alone... would you be willing to wear a helmet, even if it was only in your house? If you're hitting your head this often -- literally once a day... well, in your situation I'd be wearing a bike helmet around the house until I got this sorted. You would probably hit your head more often (as the helmet is larger than your head) but it would hopefully reduce the potential damage being done. (However, I am only suggesting this as a short-term solution while you get in touch with your doctor and work on finding out what's going on.)
posted by pie ninja at 11:12 AM on June 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

In the short term, how can I stop zoning out and forgetting that there is something heavy and immovable above my head?

This is a very, very minor and short-term solution, but I tend to be a bit clumsy, too, and have found that wearing a baseball cap or another kind of hat with a bill can be useful -- if your head is about to run into something, the bill of the hat runs into the thing before your head does, and gives your body more time to react.
posted by rue72 at 11:12 AM on June 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

I had an eye exam in January, everything checked out.

Have you been getting standard eye exams like for glasses or have you had a forreals srs business eye exam? Because there is a huge world of difference. See if you can get to a neuroophthalmologist. (If you're in Chicago I can recommend.) They will do a huge battery of tests that will make absolutely sure your vision is fine. You may well have a limited field of vision that's just always gone unnoticed in a regular exam.
posted by phunniemee at 11:22 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree this is not normal and you should press to find a doctor (neurologist?) who can give you some answers. If one person tells you it's nothing, find somebody else. Multiple brain injuries (concussions) is nothing to fool around with.

How is your hearing? That can be connected to balance problems too.

For the short term, yes -change your headgear and change your house. Wear a hat or even a helmet, put styrofoam or other padding on the things you're hitting your head on, hang ribbons from them so you see the ribbons when you're crouching, place something like crumpled paper that makes a rustling noise as you're raising your head, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing you're someone who is always in a hurry, and/or very preoccupied. If so, all I can suggest is that you make an effort to slow your pace down and try to be less laser-focused and be more aware of your surroundings.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:32 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm always in a hurry and preoccupied and I hit my head maybe once a year, usually on a car door frame. This isn't normal and OP should be seeking medical attention per the advice upthread.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:57 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I'm ever standing up from a crouch I always ask myself "What's above my head?" It's become a habit, but not a thoughtless one. I trained myself to do it. If I open a cabinet door I think "And this is what I will hit my head on later" which usually causes me to close it before I move onto something else. If I see a cabinet that's open I take note of it when I'm crouching or bending, and before I stand up again I go through my mental checklist of Things I Know I Could Hit My Head On before I stand. Change the default assumption from "I can stand up safely" to "Everything up there wants to kill me." Whenever I bend or crouch somewhere with overhead cabinets, I display in my mind an image of the corner of a cabinet door punching a hole in my skull. It's unpleasant, but it reminds me to slow down and think about my surroundings.

I do this kind of thing for other activities as well. When I'm building something: If I lose my grip on this material, where will this blade end up? Stuck in my kidney? Maybe I better revise my approach. And: Before I commit to this action, could anything I'm dealing with turn into a giant pair of finger-amputating scissors if I lose control? Okay, I'll hold it some other way. I don't just intuit those questions - I literally pause, ask myself, and determine the answer before I proceed.

Advice to "be more aware of your surroundings" is fine, but not all that helpful when it comes to implementation. Be more aware of your surroundings by consciously taking note of where hazards are, and reminding yourself to think through the logical outcomes of your physical actions, e.g. "I'm standing up. If something is over my head I will hit it and it will hurt. Therefore I'll look in the direction of travel first to insure there are no obstacles."

For some people this just comes naturally and they don't have to think about it consciously. You are not one of those people, but you can deliberately and consciously track potential hazards and think through the potential outcomes of physical actions until it becomes habit.

I trained myself to do this through various jobs and activities I engaged in that involved things like doing electrical hookups, using lots of power tools, working at heights, riding a motorcycle and (you guessed it) hitting my head on a cabinet or freezer door one too many damn times. I've had plenty of opportunities to seriously injure or kill myself, and I've thankfully avoided most of the former and all of the latter.

You can do it, but you have to decide to do it and remind yourself. Maybe put some post-its on your lower cabinets and fridge door saying "What's overhead?" or something to remind yourself until it becomes habit.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think you need to get a CT scan or an MRI-- which probably should have been done at the time of the trunk incident.

The worst case scenario is that you had a small brain injury which has caused you to "neglect" part of the world around you, such that the part of the world you are neglecting is no longer represented at all in your mental map of space, and anything in it is therefore very difficult, if not impossible to 'place' in space, and so you can't remember to avoid it when you move in that direction.

Even if that is what's going on, various kinds of therapy can help.
posted by jamjam at 12:10 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I wear ear protection, I hit my head on things constantly (like many times over the course of hours). So get your hearing checked.

However, you almost certainly have brain damage from the concrete thing. I hope it can be fixed, but you won't know until it's diagnosed!
posted by flimflam at 12:23 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Temporary fix: anytime you're near something, put your hand on the thing and don't move it until your head is clear so you jave a physical internal awareness of where it was in relation to you. Also meant you have a hands worth padding.
posted by platypus of the universe at 12:33 PM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is my own theory and may have little or no grounding in reality.

Assuming everything checks out medically, maybe practicing something like yoga or dance or martial arts might help you develop a better sense of proprioception?

If they don't, at least you'll be getting other benefits from those activities. :)
posted by rhooke at 12:40 PM on June 25, 2014

I agree with everyone that you should definitely be getting checked out, perhaps by a neurologist and an ophthalmologist (this is different than an ophthalmologist who normally just does vision examinations). At your most recent eye exam, did the doctor address the peripheral vision issues? When was your last vision field test or pressure test?

I'm almost entirely blind in one eye, (I have limited peripheral vision, no central vision, I can detect movement and light if I try, but that's about it), and thus have issues with depth perception and smacking into things. One thing that helps is contrast--a room with a low angled ceiling painted the same colors as the walls would be very difficult for me, for example. Contrast helps me see things much better, you could try putting a strip of brightly colored tape on the edge of the freezer door, or hanging some kind of poster or wall hanging on the low ceiling. Try keeping your hands on open doors and drawers to help you be aware of where they are in relation to you.

I also tend to put my hands out while walking way more than the average person does. I probably look silly, but it keeps me from walking into things.

Can you rearrange your bedroom furniture so you are less likely to sit or stand up in a spot where you will hit your head?
posted by inertia at 12:46 PM on June 25, 2014

Other activities (like heavy exercise or riding roller coasters) can cause concussions or exacerbate existing head injuries so it may not be just the two big incidents (truck, concrete ceiling) that you remember causing the problems. Unfortunately repeated head trauma can have long-term effects if they are not treated properly and your description of hitting your head about once a day on your low sloping ceiling makes me worry that you're compounding your original injuries. Of the three possibilities you gave (balance, inattention, medical issue) I suspect it is a medical issue and I would suggest seeing a neurologist as soon as you can. If you don't have a regular physician, go to the ER and let them refer you.
posted by kate blank at 1:56 PM on June 25, 2014

They say more head injuries occur while walking or driving so, get a bike helmet and wear it at home. I myself got so annoyed with hitting my head on the low beams on my parents' basement, I would put on a helmet when going down there.
posted by Rash at 3:15 PM on June 25, 2014


Take a roll of blue painters tape (or brightly colored post it) and think up the top 10 places where you bonk your head. Place reminder written onto the tape with marker somewhere that you'd notice--for instance in the fridge, I'd put a piece of tape at eye level inside the fridge with a reminder like "WATCH OUT." I find that drawing two eyeballs makes it really noticeable. It's ok if your entire apartment is covered, eventually you'll learn new habits from your reminders and will be able to take them down. People are trainable, just like dogs. Take comfort in that.

Similarly, tape off the floor in the area where you're in danger of hitting your head or move things so you can't stand where you bonk your head. If there are problem areas that you regularly use, perhaps use those areas for storage and find safer areas to use more regularly.

LONG TERM: See a doctor as everyone else suggests.
posted by dottiechang at 4:07 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you wear a lot.of hats? I find I hit my head a lot when I wear a hat with a brim but not otherwise.
posted by fshgrl at 4:21 PM on June 25, 2014

Loss of spatial awareness around the head is one of the long term side effects of head trauma. I'm not sure how it works in the big scheme of things beyond ensuring we take it easy in these situations, which decreases the odds of a good slam. My strategy is to turn and look at whatever I could bump my head on as I'm backing out (under a desk, etc.). Eyes on seems to be the best method. I tried the hand on the head/object method but killed my hand instead. Go confirm with a doc though, please.
posted by jwells at 5:47 PM on June 25, 2014

Is this mostly at home? Because I would suggest getting a comfortable padded helmet and wearing it. Seriously. Our tiny one had one for a few months as a very active toddler who was hitting her head against things or falling over at the same rate, and the helmet saved us from several ER visits until her co-ordination and peripheral vision caught up.

Seconding a neurologist and an opthamologist. A regular eye check-up is like 5 minutes, the in-depth ones usually require drops to dilate your pupils and weird looking machines.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:42 PM on June 25, 2014

This is a deficit in the innate sense of proprioception, or your sense of where you are in space, which comes mainly from your inner ear. It's one of the lesser-known senses, which we take for granted. The doc you need to see is an otolaryngologist, or an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doc, not a neurologist.

Several times a week is to much, yes (and annoying, I'd bet!).
posted by Dashy at 8:33 PM on June 25, 2014

Okay, so I may be someone unlike the other commenters in that I actually bump my head a ton - car ceilings, airplane luggage bins, cabinets, weird overhanging metal lips on staircases, you name it, I've hit my head on it. I don't think it's some kind of proprioceptive or other sensory deficit as much as it is a part and parcel of being a tall, distractable guy.

Big however: I've never had headaches or other concussion symptoms afterwards (beyond, once, a split second of seeing stars after an unfortunate collision with a car door frame). 25% strikes me as definitely something to see a doctor about. I also don't hit my head literally daily (how hard are these daily knocks?), so that's another point of difference and concern. I would worry you're just re-injuring your head over and over.

In the meantime, in my personal but absolutely non-medical experience, the "straightening up into something" head bump have been the scariest for me, and I think are probably the type you most need to get under control immediately. Your legs have the strongest muscles in your body - think about how much more weight people can move squatting or deadlifting compared to lifting with their arms. I'm not sure I could even punch someone in the head as hard as I could stand up into something.

A couple of things I do to try and mitigate this problem: 1. Go down first, instead of up. Usually when I hit my head this way, I'm not actually all the way on the floor, I'm just leaning over into some kind of semi-enclosed space. This is bad news because any obstacles are now exactly behind my head, where I can't even hope to see out of my peripheral vision. Try squatting or otherwise lowering yourself all the way down to the ground first, instead of trying to go up and out at the same time. Now you can actually look where you're going. 2. As platypus said, put your hand above your head when standing up and stand up slowly. 3. Mindfulness meditation of the "body scan" variety. This is definitely not a short-term fix and you still need to remember to actually use the skills you're practicing, which I'm terrible at, but it could be a good element of your "long game" in beating this.

But yeah - definitely worth discussing with a doctor just as you've stated it here. The ER has a terrible price-to-care ratio if you're not literally dying, so I would not start there unless you get the symptoms described here -- but it's worth making an appointment in the very near term to deal with in my non-medical opinion.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:18 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Update: I did go to a primary care doctor, who determined that I don't have a concussion and also backed up the ER doctor's decision not to do a CAT or other scan, since the radiation risks apparently outweigh the benefits if you still know where you are and what date it is.

Thanks so much for the suggestions, simple things like holding on to the top of my head are helping.
posted by ziggly at 5:09 PM on June 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also hit my head all the time. I would really steer clear of wearing a helmet indoors. I actually ended up hitting my head on things I wouldn't have if I wasn't wearing it. I have heard that ADHD can lead to hitting your head more since it causes clumsiness and a lack of awareness. I'm planning to figure out if that's causing me to, like the other poster above, often hit my head when I'm standing up.
posted by TymArtist at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2014

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