Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Headache After Car Accident Injuries: Your Guide To Determining the Severity of Your Head Injuries

Follow by Email

A car accident can have devastating consequences on victims’ lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the global cost of car accident injuries between 2015 and 2030 may reach over one trillion dollars.

Following a motor vehicle collision, you can experience severe, life-altering injuries like post-traumatic headaches. Unfortunately, you might not always recognize the extent of your injuries in the minutes following a traumatic event. Pain can manifest later and leave you wondering if you should have gone to a headache doctor sooner.

How to Handle a Headache After a Car Accident

How to Handle a Headache After a Car Accident

How do you know when to see a doctor for a headache? Do not wait or assume that you have no serious injury. Most people experience an adrenaline rush after a collision. The sudden influx of adrenaline is your body’s way of trying to protect you.

Your body breaks down the sugar in your liver and gives you a quick dose of energy. The adrenaline pumps blood into your muscles and heart during a stressful situation and can last up to an hour after the accident.

A common misconception about adrenaline is that it can alleviate pain. While it cannot take your pain away, it can distract you and focus your concentration elsewhere. Once you return home from the scene of the accident you may notice that your body feels weaker and sore.

You could have injuries that you completely missed earlier in the day. It is not that you left uninjured but instead could subconsciously ignore the more serious injuries.

If pain manifests shortly after an accident or if you have persistent headaches following the incident, you probably do not want to delay medical attention. Most people cannot diagnose their injuries or find the underlying cause.

4 Types of Headaches

Every person reacts differently to their injuries. How you feel does not have to mirror what another person feels. Where you may have a sharp, sudden headache, someone else could experience dull, throbbing pain. The following are common types of post-traumatic headaches associated with motor vehicle accidents.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine Headaches

A migraine is one of the most intense headaches and forms deep within your head, resulting in a pulsing that can last for hours or days. Migraines can be crippling and limit how much you can function.

Often, patients find themselves laying in a dark room because of the constant headache, unable to care for themselves during peak pain. Migraine pain might be one-sided and manifests with nausea, light sensitivity, or vomiting.

They sometimes present with visual disturbances known as migraine auras before the pain begins. Visual disturbances include blind spots, stars, flashing lights, zigzag lines, and shimmering lights.

Acute migraine headaches may occur due to head trauma. They can also develop due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety following a car accident.

Thunderclap Headaches

Thunderclap headaches are among the most severe types of post-traumatic headache. The pain comes on quickly and increases to its peak intensity in less than one minute.

The amount of pain you experience during a thunderclap is difficult to ignore.  While some headaches can be benign, thunderclap pain can also indicate severe, life-threatening problems.

For example, thunderclap headaches may indicate that the patient had a stroke, blood vessel inflammation, blood loss, brain injury, blood vessel tears, or stroke.

Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches

It is possible your tension headache following an accident comes from the stress of the incident. While this is possible, it can also happen due to head trauma. Pain from tension tends to be dull and aching throughout your head. Most do not manifest with throbbing, but you may have tenderness around your scalp, shoulders, forehead and neck.

Sometimes head injuries share symptoms with tension headaches. However, the pain could last for six months up to a year following the injury. For patients with severe injuries, tension headaches can become a chronic problem.

Spinal Headaches

Spinal headaches can last from hours to days. They are intense and can worsen when you sit up or stand. Laying down tends to alleviate some of the pain. Your cerebrospinal fluid surrounds your brain and provides cushioning.

However, when the fluid leaks out through the tissue around your brain and spinal cord, it results in pain. One of the most common causes of a spinal headache occurs after a spinal tap. Doctors may use spinal taps to deliver anesthesia or to diagnose other illnesses.

However, lumbar punctures are not the only cause. Head injuries resulting in fractures or spinal fluid leaks can also have the same results.

Spinal headache symptoms start at the front or back of your head and become throbbing or dull. Other possible symptoms include neck pain, sensitivity to light, and a stiff neck. It can become worse if you strain, cough, or sneeze.

When patients did not undergo a recent spinal tap, doctors diagnose through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The MRI can tell doctors whether you have leaking spinal fluid.

Top 5 Reasons for Headaches Following an Accident

Before you second guess when to see a doctor for a post-traumatic headache, you may want to know why after a collision. When you see the seriousness of the injuries, you are more likely to seek help when you need it.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury

During a collision, a person’s head can strike the steering wheel, window, door, and other components of the vehicle’s interior causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can lead to intense headaches.

TBIs range from mild to severe. Mild traumatic brain injuries present with dizziness and sensitivity to light and sound, but overall, your symptoms may improve without medical intervention.

A more severe or moderate traumatic brain injury, on the other hand, can require medical intervention. Additionally, the symptoms could last you for years or the rest of your life. Most patients who have a moderate or severe TBI lose consciousness for several minutes up to several hours.

Headaches due to a TBI, like fracture headaches, can stay persistent or worsen over time. In addition, you may find yourself confused or agitated more than usual.

It can become difficult to control your bodily functions. Patients lose coordination, suffer weakness and numbness and difficulty speaking. Some dangerous complications of a brain injury include seizures, infections, blood vessel damage, and seizures.


While classified as traumatic brain injuries, concussions are the most common injuries sustained after a car accident. Concussions occur when the brain hits the walls of the skull during an impact due to a sudden and violent jolt.

There are three grades of a concussion. Many accident victims do not think of grade one concussions as much of a problem. After all, grade one concussions are mild concussions. They result in tiredness, a post-traumatic headache, and a general feeling of unwellness. Unfortunately, grade ones do not always stay at grade one. They can become more severe.

Grade two concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness, but they can result in irregular brain function. Complications include temporary amnesia and nausea. A grade three concussion is severe and indicates that the patient lost consciousness for some amount of time.

Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) can occur due to the blunt force trauma of a motor vehicle accident. Generally, SCIs result in permanent loss of strength or sensation below your injury site. Doctors categorize SCIs as complete or incomplete.

If you have no feeling below the injury, you have a complete SCI. However, incomplete SCIs refer to limited motor function and sensation. When paramedics arrive at the scene of an accident, they may stabilize a person’s body and restrain it to protect the spinal cord.

Not all result in loss of function, particularly right away. If you ignore the possibility of a spinal cord injury, it can become more severe and detrimental to your abilities.



Whiplash occurs when your head is flung in a forceful, back and forth motion. During an auto accident, the impact of the collision often leads to whiplash. The force can damage muscles, tendons, nerves or discs. While neck pain is a typical symptom, so is pain that gradually grows from the base of the skull. Whiplash headaches can also develop.

Pinched Nerves

If you have a headache after car accident injuries, it could be due to pinched nerves. Your nerves send messages back and forth from and to your brain. Nerves can become compressed after a car accident due to ruptured discs, bone spurs or tissues pressing against the nerve.

Pain from a pinched nerve has the ability to spread from your shoulder, upper back and arm on the side of the injury. You may have weakness in your hands or numb fingers.

Medical doctors refer to a pinched nerve headache as a cervicogenic headache involving the nerves in your upper neck. The injuries can feel similar to migraines despite the source of the pain beginning in your neck.

The pain can last weeks, days or hours. Other symptoms that accompany the headaches include pain in the neck, diminished sensation and coordination, shoulder pain and muscle spasms.

Treatment Options for a Headache After a Car Accident

If you have head pain after an accident, a medical doctor has to diagnose the cause of the pain. Not only do you need to recount your symptoms and the incident to your medical provider, but the physician uses various diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your head pain.

Some standard tests include:

  • Imaging scans like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Blood tests
  • Lumbar punctures

Once the headache doctor determines the underlying injury, you can focus on treatment methods.

Surgery and Medication

Various types of medication alleviate the symptoms of a headache after a car accident. Depending on the nature of your injury, drugs for anxiety, depression, or monoamine oxidase inhibitors can treat your pain. You have to return to your physician regularly to ensure that the medicine works.

Pain relievers may also help. Many people try over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and aspirin. Muscle relaxants reduce muscle spasms and tightness. Headaches caused by tension in the body sometimes react well to relaxants.

Emergency surgery allows physicians to interfere before further damage occurs. The operation can also alleviate some of your discomforts. Doctors may use surgery to remove clotted blood, stop bleeding in the brain, or repair a skull fracture. If you have a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid, surgeons can create a window in your skull to create more room for swelling and inflammation and relieve the pressure.

Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy

Limited motor function is common after a head injury. Doctors can use physical therapy to help you regain lost function. Additionally, it focuses on your posture and body mechanics to alleviate pain and to help return to your former life. As you minimize the tension in your body and the awkward positioning, you may relieve discomfort due to post-traumatic headaches.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy addresses the emotional impact of the incident or the stress of a constant headache. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional consequences of the accident, but you have to handle the physical too. Cognitive therapy might help you work through your stressors and eliminate tension headaches and migraines.

Massage and Chiropractic Adjustments

Massage and chiropractic adjustments are common treatments for pinched nerves. You can use an adjustment to relax your body, readjust your spinal alignment, and lessen the symptoms. You may also require steroids injected near the nerve to help with inflammation and reduce the overall pain.

When To See a Doctor for a Headache After a Car Accident

When To See a Doctor for a Headache After a Car Accident

Head injuries can progress quickly. If you have pressure building in your skull or a brain bleed due to a traumatic brain injury, it can cause extensive damage over time. Ignoring post-traumatic headaches only provides an opportunity for your injuries to become worse, and lead to a constant headache. The only way to find the underlying cause of your headache pain is to visit a headache doctor and have the appropriate tests conducted.

Seeking Care for Your Car Accident Injuries

If you have a headache after a car accident, visiting a headache doctor may help you finally get to the bottom of your symptoms. Pain in or around your head can indicate severe injuries to your brain, skull, or spine.

At Accident Help Zone, we understand how important it is for you to receive medical care as quickly as possible following a motor vehicle accident. Delayed care could result in your injuries becoming worse. Don’t take any chances if you’re still asking when to see a doctor for a serious injury. Doctors listed in our free directory accept no-fault insurance, PIP (personal injury protection), and workers’ compensation. medical liens, LOPs (letter of protection), and other insurance plans.

Contact us and seek medical help after an accident trauma. Same-day appointments may be available.