Why Does My Head Hurt After a Car Accident?

In virtually every car accident case that I have handled in my career, my clients report headaches. These symptoms are often confusing because very few have had their head actually strike anything. When the headaches linger, or even get worse, they start to get concerned. If you have been in a car accident and are experiencing headaches, you are not alone. This article will seek to explain what may be going on and some ways that you can get help.

Is It Normal to Have Headaches After a Car Accident?

To get an idea about how common headaches are, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of adults in the United States. The subjects were asked if they had experienced a severe headache or migraine in the last three months. It was reported that women were twice as likely to have these problems. Overall, 20% of women and 10% of men reported having a severe headache or migraine just in the last three months.

Why Does My Head Hurt After a Car Accident?_Graphic 1

Now, this study did not take into account the causes of the headaches and migraines. What happens when a car accident is the cause of your headache?

What is a Crash Headache?

There are several types of crash headaches that occur after the car accident. Please review each to determine if the causes and symptoms match your situation.

Cervicogenic Headaches

A cervicogenic headache originates from the neck and back of the head. It is a chronic headache that is caused by injuries to the joints, ligaments, or arteries in that area. Along with the headache, you may experience a reduced range of motion to the neck and pain on one side of the head.

Chronic Facial Headaches

The symptoms of chronic facial headaches are severe bursts of pain along the cheek and jaw. They are caused by pressure on the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is just before your earlobe and extends near the eyes, along the lower jaw, and into the ear and nose. Because of its sensitive location, the pain can be intense.

Cluster Headaches

A cluster headache is simply defined as those which occur in groups. They are often accompanied by eye pain.

Fracture Headaches

This type of headache is the result of a fractured skull or neck bone. The pain is either at the back of the head and neck or at the spot of the fracture. Because there was enough force to break a bone, your doctor will be checking to see if there is also a brain injury. In addition to pain, fracture headaches can include nausea, confusion, slurred speech, and neck stiffness.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches cause severe throbbing pain to the sides of the head or in a halo around the skull. They can be episodic or chronic. There can be many triggers. A person who already had migraines can be severely affected by a car accident.

Muscle Contraction/Spasm Headaches

Perhaps the most common type of headache after a car accident is caused by injuries to the neck, head, or upper back. The impact from the crash causes a tearing of the soft tissue. This tearing causes muscle spasm and strains that in turn, cause headaches. Other symptoms are reduced range of motion, tenderness, redness and/or swelling.

Nerve Dysfunction Headaches

Nerve dysfunction headaches are caused when the upper cervical nerve roots or the occipital nerve are injured or inflamed due to pinching or muscle tightness.

Occipital Neuralgia Headaches (Pinched Nerve)

Occipital neuralgia headaches are caused when the greater occipital nerve, which runs along the neck, is compressed. This compression causes injury and inflammation. The compression of the nerve can be caused by compression of the spine or a disc herniation after the accident. As a result, a person will have pain, tenderness, burning, numbness, and tingling. These symptoms range from the neck or base of the skull up the back of the head.

Post-Traumatic Headaches

A post-traumatic headache is defined as a headache that is caused by trauma to the head or neck during the car accident. This type of headache may not appear for days or even weeks after the accident. They can originate from the neck, brain, from muscle contraction or spasm, or from pinching the nerve roots or greater occipital nerve.

Post-Concussive Headaches

A common injury in a car accident is a concussion. A concussion can be caused by either a strike to the head or simply a violent movement. This injury to the brain causes a chemical disruption that can lead to headaches and migraines. Common symptoms along with the headaches are nausea, light sensitivity, memory loss, confusion, irritability, anxiety and depression, sleep disorders, balance problems, or ringing in the ears.

Tension Headaches

A tension headache is caused by stress or tension caused by a strain to a muscle in a car accident. The pain level for this type of headache is steady mild to moderate.

Whiplash Headaches

A whiplash headache is another common type of injury caused by a sudden force to the head and neck. The head does not need to strike anything to cause a whiplash injury. All that needs to happen is for the head to be forward and backwards with enough force to injure the soft tissue of the neck. Whiplash headaches are focused near the base of the skull. Other symptoms to look for are neck pain, stiffness, dizziness, and fatigue. Whiplash headaches may not appear for days or even weeks following the crash.

How Long Does a Headache Last After an Accident?

According to an article with the National Center for Biotechnology Information, headaches are very common and persistent up to one year after an auto accident. In addition, 91% of those who have experienced a mild traumatic brain injury reported prolonged and persistent problems with headaches.

How Do You Get Rid of a Trauma Headache?

The treatment for trauma headaches depends on their triggers. The good news is that they can be treated and controlled. The headaches will lessen in severity and frequency over time. In some cases, as the trigger injury heals, the headaches will lessen. For example, in car accident cases, quite often the trigger for the headache is an injury to the neck. As our clients get physical therapy, the neck injury slowly heals, thus eliminating the trigger for the headache. Some non-pharmaceutical therapies are:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy;
  2. Nerve stimulation;
  3. Occupational therapy;
  4. Physical therapy;
  5. Chiropractic treatment;
  6. Relaxation therapy;
  7. Speech therapy.

Every cause for headaches is different and some people need medication therapy. Some simply take over the counter medication like ibuprofen. In more severe cases, car accident victims may need prescription medication. Some examples are stimulants, such as adderall, antidepressants, anti-seizure meds, or blood pressure medication.

When Should you go to the Doctor Because of a Headache?

I advise everyone-whether they are a client or not-to get checked out by a doctor who specializes in car accident injuries as soon as possible. Your headache might be a minor inconvenience, but what if it is a symptom of something more serious? What if treatment or medication could fix it? What if your delay in treatment prevents a full recovery? These are all questions that I would ask myself if I was the victim of a car accident. The head and brain should not be taken lightly. If you have a pending car accident claim or health insurance, there will be money to pay for medical bills, so take care of your health.

What to Do after a Car Accident?

There are many important steps to take after a car accident. These steps are important for both your physical health and to improve the value of your injury claim.

  • Contact Law Enforcement
  • Take Photos of the Damage to the Car
  • Take Photos of Visible Injuries
  • Go to a Hospital or Urgent Care
  • Seek Medical Treatment With a Car Accident Specialist
  • Do Not Give Detailed Information to Insurance About Injuries
  • Do Not Give a Recorded Statement
  • Contact a Car Accident Lawyer As Soon as Possible

Is it Normal to Have a Headache After Being Rear-Ended?

Yes, it is normal to have a headache after being rear-ended. Post-traumatic headaches from a car accident are one of the most common symptoms reported to chiropractors during their course of treatment. Many of these headaches are considered delayed onset because they don’t happen immediately. The cause for these delays are due to other injuries associated with the accident drawing attention or focus. Pain is not normally centralized to one spot after a crash. Or, they could simply be the body’s normal healing process. Whatever the reason, headaches are common especially in a rear-end accident. When the body, neck, and head are thrown forward and then backward, there is a high likelihood that a headache will ensue. Please monitor your symptoms and report everything to your doctor.

Headaches Can Be a Sign of a Brain Injury

While this article addresses how common headaches are after an accident, in more serious cases, they also can be a sign of a brain injury. These injuries are called traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Brain injuries are difficult to diagnose because they are invisible to the naked eye. Many times people might realize that something is “off” but do not appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Brain injuries require diagnostic testing and treatment. The recovery time depends on the individual and the extent of the injury. My experience in car accident cases is that if an individual has not recovered within the first year, then further improvement is unlikely. This is all the more reason to get checked out. Some symptoms of a hidden brain injury are:

  1. Dull and aching headaches and migraines;
  2. Tightness and pressure across your forehead, around your temples, or on the back of your head;
  3. Tenderness of the scalp, the neck, of the top of the shoulders;
  4. Loss of appetite;
  5. Nausea or dizziness;
  6. Loss of consciousness during the car accident is a big sign;
  7. Changes in mood or your personality;
  8. Cognitive problems such as loss of memory or inability to find words;
  9. Anxiety or depression.

Examples of Car Accidents Cases

I have found that my clients who get headaches after a car accident almost always get better with time. It is important that they perform their therapy and/or take their medication, but the symptoms do eventually go away. But, that doesn’t mean that headaches are nothing to be concerned about. I always advise that my clients tell their doctors in detail about what they are experiencing. Some may get referred to a neurologist for evaluation and testing. Perhaps a brain MRI is needed to diagnose what is going on. But, “toughing it out” or “dealing with it” should never be an option. If we all know what is going on, we can get you the resources that are needed to get the problem solved.

How Much is a Headache Worth in a Car Accident Settlement?

A headache is a symptom of an injury after a car accident. There must be some cause of the headache that can be verified. Without diagnostic findings, a headache alone is not worth much. This is because a headache is a subjective complaint. It is impossible to verify someone’s level of pain or discomfort. This is why MRI tests of the neck and brain are so important. If there are any signs that there is an injury, the headache can be easily explained. Thus, the headache is a way to add to the value of a case with pain and suffering. In Florida, pain and suffering has no cap on how much a jury can award. If you can prove the headache was caused by an injury from the crash, then the sky’s the limit.

How I Prepare My Car Accident Cases

It is my job to recover compensation for the injuries that you have sustained. I ask all of my clients to tell me in detail how the accident has affected their lives so that I can effectively relay it to the insurance company. I have handled countless car accident cases involving headaches and understand that they need to be documented and explained. Because they are subjective complaints, it can be more difficult to value than something that shows up in black and white on a diagnostic test. If you have missed work because of the headaches, or had to pay anything out of pocket, I need to know. Together, we will put together an accurate demand to the insurance company to maximize the amount of compensation you are owed.

Contact an Accident Attorney

It doesn’t matter how bad the car crash was, anyone can get headaches from it. I see it happen all the time. I understand how debilitating headaches can be after a car accident. I see first hand how my clients struggle after the accident to get their lives back to where they were before. You are not alone. If you need help, and would like to speak to me about your car accident, my consultations are free of charge.