Headaches after a car accident are common complaints and can come from many sources. Some individuals who suffer from headaches before an auto accident may find their headaches have become more painful or consistent. Others will not experience a headache until a few hours, days, or even a week after an auto accident. A headache after a car wreck can be caused by many things, and a visit with a physician can help determine the cause and help alleviate your pain.
Common Causes of Headaches After Car Accidents
There are many ways in which a passenger can become injured in a car accident that results in persistent or painful headaches. Some reasons are not immediately identifiable. The most common reasons are a blow or strike to the head, or whiplash. The severity of the headache can depend greatly on the impact and force exerted during the accident.
Types and Symptoms of Headaches After a Car Wreck
While there are many injuries that can cause headaches following a car accident, certain injuries are more likely to occur and cause pain than others.
Post-Traumatic Headache: This type of headache is usually caused by trauma to the head and neck during an auto accident or other traumatic event. Post-traumatic headaches may be cervicogenic (originating from the neck), post-concussive (originating from the brain as a direct result of concussion), from muscle contraction/spasm, or from pinching of upper cervical (neck area) nerve roots/greater occipital (base of skull) nerve. Usually this type of headache does not appear for days or weeks following the accident.
Post-Concussive Headache (i.e. Migraine Headaches): A concussion is an injury to the brain, often caused by a blow to the head or a sudden and violent jolt. Migraine headaches associated with concussion are a chemical phenomenon in the brain, and are often associated with nausea (sometimes with vomiting), light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, and also sensitivity to certain smells and movement. Other symptoms of concussion include such as clouded thoughts, memory loss, confusion, irritability, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, dizziness, balance problems, and ringing in the ears.
Muscle-Contraction/Spasm Headaches: One of the most common causes of headaches after a car wreck, is caused when the muscles of the neck, head, or upper back are injured. Especially during an auto accident, a sudden jolt on the neck and head can tear or injure the soft tissue, causing strain or spasm of the muscles. Along with a headache, muscle strain can also cause reduced range of motion, tenderness of the affected area, or redness or swelling.
Whiplash Headache: Whiplash is a common injury of motor vehicle accidents, caused by a sudden force upon the head and neck. The head is often forced far forward and far backwards, and this jerking action can strain soft tissue. Whiplash headaches generally are focused near the base of the skull, and may accompany neck pain or stiffness, dizziness, and fatigue.Often this type of headache does not appear for days or weeks following the accident.
Fracture Headache: A fractured skull or neck bone can result in intense fracture headaches. Pain in these types of headaches is often at the back of the head and neck, or can be localized near the injury site. Along with persistent headaches, brain injury can also become a factor with a fractured bone. The severity of the symptoms depends on the type and extent of the bone fracture. Apart from the fracture headache, other signs may include nausea, confusion, slurred speech, or stiff neck.
Occipital Neuralgia Headache (Pinched Nerve): During an accident, it is possible that the compression of the spine or disc herniation results in a pinching of the upper cervical (neck) nerve roots or irritation of the greater occipital nerve (nerve at the base of the skull). When these nerves are compressed, a person will experience pain, tenderness, burning, numbness, and tingling from the neck/base of the skull up the back of the head. It is often tender even to touch.
Why It’s Important to See a Doctor Soon After an Accident
It is not uncommon for headaches to appear hours, days, or even a week after the auto accident happened. Oftentimes headaches are a symptom of another injury that was sustained in the accident. Finding an auto injury doctor who is experienced in determining the source of your injuries can help you alleviate headache pain and help reduce the chances of it becoming a chronic condition.