While headaches are a common ailment, they are not always an innocuous result of a lack of sleep or caffeine. A headache can sometimes be a sign of other issues in the body, especially if you are experiencing them after a significant impact like a car accident. A headache that persists after experiencing a car accident can be a sign of serious injuries to the neck or back, whiplash, concussion, or even a blood clot in the brain. These risks make it important to contact a doctor as soon as you notice symptoms of a headache. Visiting Accident Doctors gives you access to a range of specialists who focus on treating the effects of a car accident, including the root causes of headaches.
It is important to know that headaches and other symptoms may not immediately appear after you have been in a car accident. The adrenaline and shock of the moment may cause symptoms to be delayed, and headaches can appear hours or days after the initial accident occurred. However, this doesn’t mean that the injury hasn’t occurred in this time period. It is critical to seek treatment after a car accident even if you are not yet experiencing headaches or other symptoms to rule out severe, unseen car accident injuries.
Common Causes of Headaches After a Car Accident
It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of some headaches in car accident victims, especially if the cause is not visible on diagnostic scans like MRIs or CT scans. However, there are a number of common reasons these headaches can occur, and your doctor will likely evaluate you for these conditions first. While these are the most common causes, they are not the only possible reasons for your headaches.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
One of the biggest concerns with a post-car accident headache is that there was a traumatic injury to the brain. This is an umbrella term that applies to a variety of head injuries that can range from mild to life-threatening. During a collision, your head is likely to make an impact with hard surfaces around it like the dashboard, windows, or other passengers, which is usually the cause of these injuries. The sudden movement of your body can cause the brain to move on its own, hitting against the skull and causing these injuries as well.
Common head injuries sustained in car accidents include:
- Concussions: One of the most prevalent TBIs is a concussion, which is the result of microscopic damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the brain after a blunt force trauma to the head. Many people recover quickly from concussions, but without proper treatment, they can lead to long-term problems.
- Contusions: When the brain slams against the skull, it can actually become bruised in multiple locations.
- Intracranial Hematomas: This is a potentially life-threatening complication where brain vessels rupture and begin bleeding into the skull and brain, causing pressure that needs to be relieved quickly.
Most people with a TBI will experience headaches, in addition to issues with vision, dizziness, memory loss, mood changes, or confusion.
When a car is hit, your body often moves in an unnatural way, jerking back and forth before it is able to stop. This can lead to whiplash, a frequent condition in which the soft tissues and nerves in the neck are damaged. Someone suffering from whiplash will have lasting pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. In addition to the musculoskeletal issues, whiplash can also cause post-crash headaches. This is especially likely to happen during a rear-end collision. Signs of a whiplash headache include pain that starts at the base of your skull or is worsened by looking up and other neck movements.
After whiplash has healed, some people will suffer from a condition known as post-traumatic headaches, which are ongoing as a result of trauma to the head or neck. In addition to whiplash, these may also be present if there was a muscle spasm or pinched nerve as part of the body’s sudden movement.
Types of Headaches
In addition to various causes, headaches can also have a variety of ways in which they present. Understanding the type of headache you are suffering from can help your provider begin to diagnose the cause of the headache and identify the proper treatment plan.
The headaches that most people experience in daily life are known as tension headaches. These are typically mild and go away with time and rest. Muscle tension in the scalp, neck, and shoulders can cause these headaches, with pain often manifesting in the back of the neck or temples. Another common headache is the sinus headache, which results from pressure or inflammation of the sinuses. Typically, sinus headaches occur when someone is congested or struggling with allergies as opposed to suffering from an injury.
More severe headaches are less common but can have a significant impact on quality of life when not treated properly. Cluster headaches can last from 15 minutes to a few hours and happen multiple times throughout the day for a series of consecutive days. The pain associated with cluster headaches is an extreme pain with burning, piercing, or throbbing. Migraines can also be debilitating and cause sensitivity to stimuli like light and sound, nausea, or vomiting. Some migraines have clear triggers, but they can also be caused by head and neck trauma.
Certain headaches are specific to car accidents or other sudden trauma. When a skull or neck bone suffers a fracture, this can lead to fracture headaches. Pain in these cases is often in the back of the head and the neck and can be intense. Left untreated, these fractures can put you at risk for brain injury in addition to headaches. A pinched nerve in the upper spine can also lead to tenderness, burning, numbness, or tingling that begins in the base of the neck and works its way up the rest of the head.
For those with other car accident-related injuries, another cause for headaches can be the medicine that is used to manage pain. Many medications list headaches as a potential side effect, especially when combined with other substances like caffeine or alcohol. If there is a correlation between when you take medicine and the severity of your headaches, you can work with your provider to determine the best balance of pain management.
Diagnostics for Headaches
Headaches are not necessarily as simple to diagnose as they sound. Like anything related to the head or brain, diagnosis can be complicated by a number of factors. Even in mild cases, imaging tests can be used to rule out serious conditions even if they are not needed to diagnose the headache’s cause itself.
In rare cases, a CT scan or x-ray may be used to assist a doctor’s evaluation of your pain, but MRI scans are the most common diagnostic imaging test used when headaches are present. MRIs use radio waves and magnetic fields to create complex images of soft tissue, organs, and other bodily structures. This image can be used by doctors to evaluate the severity and type of complications.
Treatment Options for Headaches After Car Accidents
After determining the type of headache you are presenting, a doctor will be able to narrow down the root cause and create a treatment plan. This plan will be personalized based on the injury’s type, location, and severity, as well as any personal health considerations that need to be made. In most cases, headaches can be treated with a combination of medication, non-invasive treatment methods, lifestyle changes, and other non-surgical practices.
If you have been in a car accident, it is important to undergo a full medical evaluation to identify any injuries that may have been sustained. Headaches are your body’s way of telling you there may be more serious issues that require treatment.