What to Do if You Have Headaches After a Car Accident

Headaches after a car accident are incredibly common and they can also be a symptom of a more severe injury. While many headaches are caused by trauma to the head and neck during a car crash, some headaches may indicate a neck or spinal injury or even a life-threatening blood clot.

The only way to truly understand—and heal—what’s causing your headaches after a car accident is to seek medical attention right away. A medical care team can provide a full evaluation and formal diagnosis, so you can begin a pain management plan that effectively treats your injury at the source.

Once your injury begins to heal, it’s wise to explore the legal options available to you. A trusted car accident attorney can help you navigate an insurance claim or a potential injury lawsuit to recoup the expenses you’ve dedicated to medical care, time away from work, and vehicle repair costs.

If you’ve recently been involved in an auto accident and now suffer severe or constant headaches, do not ignore your pain symptoms. Read on to learn more about the common types of headaches caused by car wrecks and the steps you can take to receive the proper medical and legal guidance.

Why You Should Never Ignore Headaches After an Accident

Headaches are often your body’s way of alerting you to a more serious injury. During an auto accident, the trauma of the crash can stretch, tear, or compress crucial soft tissues, like muscles and nerves. Head pain may develop as a warning sign that you’ve sustained some type of tissue damage.

For instance, a headache at the base of the neck is often a sign of whiplash, a common car accident neck injury caused by torn soft tissue. A headache can also result from a life-threatening blood clot caused by internal bleeding—a severe injury that requires medical attention.

In other words, a recurring headache is more than just an annoyance. Instead, it can be a symptom of something much more dangerous. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and receive immediate medical care to prevent your current injuries from worsening over time.

Common Types of Headaches (and Their Symptoms) Caused by Car Wrecks

From a pulsing pain in your temples to a throbbing ache in the back of your head, car wrecks can cause several different types of headaches. Take a look at the most common types of headaches caused by motor vehicle accidents, the symptoms to watch for, and what they could mean.

Post-Traumatic Headache

Car accidents are an incredibly traumatic event, so it’s no surprise that some of the most common types of headaches after a crash are post-traumatic headaches. Common causes for these types of headaches include trauma to the neck and head. Post-traumatic headaches can be classified as:

  • Cervicogenic or originating from trauma to the soft tissue of the neck.
  • Post-concussive or originating from head trauma, like a concussion.
  • Neurological or originating from trauma to a nerve root.

Post-traumatic headaches often feel like migraines and may cause similar symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, pulsating pain. These headaches may not appear for several days or even weeks post-accident and must receive medical care to diagnose the underlying trauma.

Post-Concussive Headache

A post-concussive headache is a type of post-traumatic headache caused by a traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as a concussion. During an accident, the force of the collision causes the soft tissue of the brain to strike against the hard bone of the skull, which can bruise and damage sensitive brain cells.

Headaches are very common after a direct blow to the brain, like a concussion. Known as post-concussion syndrome, a head injury like a concussion can create chemical changes in the brain that cause chronic headaches, sound and light sensitivity, and even sensitivity to certain smells.

Other symptoms of a post-concussive headache include memory loss, dizziness, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and brain fog. These symptoms often begin in the first few days after the accident. Headaches may begin upon awakening for those who lost consciousness during the crash.

Muscle-Contraction or Spasm Headaches

Muscle spasms are one of the first signs of a soft tissue car accident injury. When soft tissue is damaged during a crash, the surrounding muscle will often involuntarily expand and contract to bring more blood flow to the injured tissue. We refer to that contraction as a muscle spasm.

When muscle fibers and other types of soft tissue are stretched and torn during a crash, it’s common to experience localized pain in the injured area. When the pain is central to the neck and head, it’s normal to experience muscle-contraction or spasm headaches, too.

Other symptoms of spasm headaches include tenderness in the affected area, reduced range of motion, and redness or swelling. Spasm headache pain typically develops in the days after the crash once your body begins to try and heal the damage caused by the collision.

Headaches Caused by Whiplash

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Whiplash is one of the most common auto accident injuries. A whiplash injury occurs when a violent jolt forces the neck and head to shift forward and backward suddenly. During a car crash, this rapid motion can damage the soft tissue, nerve roots, and even joints located in the neck.

After a whiplash injury, it’s common to experience headaches near the base of the skull several days or weeks after the crash. A whiplash headache often involves neck pain and stiffness, shoulder pain, and fatigue. Other symptoms of whiplash include dizziness, visual disturbances, reduced range of motion, and trouble concentrating. Be sure to visit a doctor if you believe you’ve suffered whiplash.

Headaches Caused by Fractures

A fractured bone is a major contributor to severe headaches after a car accident. Known as fracture headaches, head pain is often the worst at the back of the head or localized near the injury site, such as around the temples.

These types of headaches occur if you’ve partially or completely broken a bone in the skull or neck, but they can also be the most dangerous.

A skull fracture can cause the formation of blood clots in and around the brain, which, when left untreated, can be life-threatening. Symptoms to watch for a fracture headache include confusion, slurred speech, and dizziness. A neck fracture may cause a stiff neck and limited range of motion, whereas a skull fracture may cause bleeding from the eyes, nose, or ears.

Seek medical care immediately if you’re experiencing these symptoms.

Headaches Caused by Pinched Nerves (Occipital Neuralgia)

There are more than 7 trillion nerves in the human body, all of which are vulnerable to injury during a car accident. In most cases, the blunt force trauma of a vehicle collision will either directly injure the nerve itself or cause a spinal injury that compresses nerve roots. 

You probably know this type of injury as a pinched nerve, but medically, it’s referred to as neuralgia.

The most commonly injured nerves in a car crash include the cervical (neck) nerve roots and the major nerve at the base of the skull called the occipital nerve. When these nerves are damaged, the injury is known as occipital neuralgia. Symptoms of occipital neuralgia include a throbbing or pulsating headache, as well as a burning, tingling, and tenderness in the back of the head.

What to Do if You Have Headaches After an Accident

If you are experiencing frequent headaches after a car accident, do not wait to take action. The longer you wait to visit a doctor, the worse your injuries may become. Rather than allow pain to continue—and potentially become chronic and lifelong—follow these four steps.

1. Seek Medical Attention Immediately

There’s often far more to headaches than what immediately meets the eye. The only way to truly determine what’s causing your headache symptoms is to visit a doctor for a full evaluation and proper diagnosis.

A medical professional can provide diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and MRI scans, that look beneath the surface of the skin to identify the underlying injury.

2. Do Not Ignore Pain Symptoms

Whether your headaches began weeks after the crash or have responded well so far to an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen, never ignore your pain symptoms.

When neck and head trauma are left untreated, they can significantly worsen over time. The underlying injury, such as a compressed nerve root, can ultimately result in chronic pain that impacts your livelihood.

Likewise, if your pain symptoms are the result of a car accident that was limited or no fault of your own, you do not deserve to suffer in silence. You can pursue an injury claim but you must receive medical care to document the injury and prove it is related to the recent auto accident first.

3. Adhere to a Doctor-Prescribed Treatment Plan

Once you visit a doctor, adhere to the treatment plan they advise. The treatment for car accident headaches varies depending on the source of the injury, so you absolutely should not self-medicate.

Your physician can create a personalized treatment plan that includes the appropriate medications, exercises, and lifestyle changes suitable for your injury.

4. Consult an Attorney for Legal Advice

You can pursue an injury case against the at-fault driver if you were injured in a car accident that was limited or no fault of your own. Rather than navigate the intimidating insurance claims process on your own, consult with a personal injury attorney for legal advice.

An attorney can help prepare the proper documentation to file a claim and instruct you on how to move forward with the settlement process. They can help navigate complex issues like lost wages and other damages, like outstanding medical bills, so you can receive the compensation you deserve.

If the settlement amount offered by the insurance company is not enough to cover your medical expenses and other injury damages, an attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. Most importantly, an attorney can ensure you’re treated fairly throughout the claims process. 

How are Car Accident Headaches Treated?

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Car accident headache treatment is far from one size fits all. Instead, your care team must address your specific underlying injury. Your doctor will likely create a personalized treatment plan based on your current symptoms, the results of your diagnostic testing, and your previous medical history.

For instance, accident victims who suffer from a post-concussive or occipital neuralgia headache may visit a neurologist to treat underlying brain or nerve damage. Accident victims with spasm headaches may consult with a chiropractor or physical therapist to treat the damaged soft tissue.

Many accident victims who suffer from headaches will receive prescription medication and/or lifestyle modification suggestions to alleviate pain symptoms while healing the underlying injury. In most cases, headaches will lessen in frequency and severity once the initial injury begins to heal.

Seeking Help After a Car Accident

After a car accident, a headache can be the warning sign that something has been severely injured. Do not wait to learn if that pain will become worse over time.

Instead, listen to your body and seek immediate medical care. Your health, and your right to compensation, will thank you.

At David Bryant Law, our law firm has handled hundreds of cases for car accident victims who have suffered at the hands of a negligent driver. The sooner these accident victims sought medical attention, the quicker they received a diagnosis that allowed them to pursue a proper injury case.

The injury lawyers at David Bryant Law are ready to help you avoid the potential repercussions of persistent car accident headaches. Contact us today for a free consultation so we can learn more about your injury case. Together, we will pursue your right to compensation after a traumatic crash.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.