If you are experiencing persistent or frequent headaches after a car accident, it might be a sign of a more serious injury. Everyone has experienced a headache from time to time; it can affect your mood, productivity, and overall well-being. But when they hit you by surprise and happen all the time, it’s time to take a deeper look into what’s going on, especially if the onset of your headaches occurs after a car accident.
When you experience chronic headaches after a car accident, it’s probably more than just a little bit of stress. In this case, you might need more than just a few Tylenols. Car accident headaches are different from your occasional migraine.
Read on to learn more about different types of post-accident headaches, why you might be experiencing them, and what to do if you have this problem. We’ll also discuss how you might be able to seek compensation for your pain with the help of a Denver personal injury lawyer.
How Common Are Headaches After a Car Accident?
Headaches are surprisingly common after a car accident; let’s break down the numbers. Every year nearly 1.35 million people die in car crashes in a traffic fatality (it’s the leading cause of death for people ages 1-54 in the US). In addition to that, another 30 to 50 million people sustain injuries every year. About 20% of those injuries will involve headaches or some type of head or brain injury, which translates to 6 to 10 million people who may experience headaches after a car accident every year.
Headaches often have a late onset after the initial car accident, meaning you won’t always get headaches right away after the accident. Rather, they can have a delayed onset of presentation and really catch you by surprise. They may begin days or even weeks after the crash.
Even if you didn’t hit your head in the accident, you can have an underlying injury that’s causing the headaches. In medical terms, a headache that occurs as a result of a car accident is called a “post-traumatic headache”. Neurologists say that these types of headaches are more painful and often more persistent.
While stress alone can cause headaches after a motor vehicle collision, that’s not usually the case. More often, it’s a side effect of a more serious injury that occurred from the accident. It could be from a direct blow to the head or another type of injury that ultimately causes headaches.
How Long Does a Headache Typically Last After a Car Accident?
Headaches can last for different amounts of time for each person. It depends on the underlying cause of the headaches and how severe the injury is. According to one study, headaches could occur consistently for up to one year after an auto accident, with most of the subjects (over 90%) having experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Never Ignore Headaches After a Denver Car Accident
You should never ignore a headache after a car accident because it could be a sign of a very serious underlying injury like whiplash, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or a concussion. In the end, leaving these conditions untreated can cause life-long pain and discomfort. Failure to treat the root cause of the injury will not help your headaches, and could actually worsen them or make way for additional side-effects. You can prevent a lot of future damage and pain by getting immediate medical care.
The longer you ignore headaches or “wait for them to pass”, the harder it will be to connect your injuries to the accident. Insurance companies will ask why you waited so long to get treatment and perhaps even claim that your injuries are not serious since you didn’t bother to get treatment right away.
Do I Need to See a Doctor for My Headaches?
Yes. It’s imperative to see a doctor after a car accident, no matter how “mild” you think your injuries are. Moreover, if you hit your head in the accident or start getting headaches after the accident, you’ll need to see a specialist such as a neurologist or another doctor who specializes in car accident injuries.
The sooner you see a doctor, the better. While many people think headaches are minor injuries that they can put up with and might go away, delaying treatment can potentially cause worsening of the injury and prevent a full medical recovery. You might deal with long-term consequences that could have been prevented by seeing a doctor sooner. So don’t delay getting medical treatment as soon as you start getting post-accident headaches, or even better, immediately after the accident.
Different Types of Headaches That Can Occur After a Denver Motor Vehicle Collision
You can either have headaches from the stress or impact (or both) of a car accident. If your headache is constant and unrelenting, you may have a head, neck, or brain injury. The brain is a very sensitive and delicate yet complex organ that, when damaged, can cause a host of side effects for the injured person.
Let’s examine some of the different types of headaches that could occur after a car accident.
A cervicogenic headache (CGH) is one-sided, or unilateral pain that originates from the bony structures and soft tissues of the neck. When the ligaments, joints, and arteries in the neck become injured, a CGH becomes a chronic and recurrent headache that gets triggered by neck movement. The injured person may experience a reduced range of motion in the neck.
Cluster headaches are very painful headaches that occur in periods. The patient may experience frequent attacks of “cluster” headaches accompanied by intense pain in or around the eye on one side.
Facial Pain Headaches
Some people may also experience facial pain along with headaches, which entails pain in the cheek and jaw. If your face was injured in the car crash, you may experience headaches as a result, but this can be a two-way street. You may also experience facial pain that is caused by a headache stemming from damage to the trigeminal nerve, which is a nerve that connects the ears to the eyes, jaw, ears, and nose.
Post-concussion Headache Syndrome
In medical terms, “post-concussion syndrome” refers to any concussion symptoms that affect the patient for longer than one or two weeks. The recovery period for a concussion is about one to two weeks, thus, anything lasting beyond that is considered a post-concussion syndrome, such as a headache that lasts longer than two weeks.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when the brain gets aggressively shaking inside the head and hits the bony structures of the skull. Along with headaches, post-concussion syndrome may produce symptoms like ringing in the ears, confusion, memory loss, or blurred vision. If a concussion is severe enough, the injured person might even lose consciousness for a few minutes. About 20% of car accident victims experience symptoms that last three weeks or more.
“Post-traumatic headache” is a general term for headaches that are caused by a form of trauma and feels like a tension headache. If it occurs for longer than 3 months it’s referred to as a “persistent post-traumatic headache”. People who already get migraines and headaches regularly may be at higher risk of experiencing post-traumatic headaches. They occur due to muscles that tense up during injury, causing blood vessels to constrict and preventing blood flow to the head. The pain can feel moderate to severe and occur as pulsing pain, along with nausea and vomiting.
If you have post-traumatic headaches, they probably get with activity, so you’ll want to take it easy for a while. Too much strenuous activity with post-traumatic headaches can cause dizziness, insomnia, memory problems, sensitivity to light, and even mood or personality changes.
Headaches Caused By Muscle Strains and Spasms
Any sort of injury in the head, upper back, and neck can cause headaches. The crash impact can cause tears in the soft tissues, resulting in muscle spasms and strains. Ultimately, these damaged muscle fibers cause strains and spasms that lead to headaches and also cause reduced range of motion, inflammation, and tenderness. Such headaches usually present as constant, dull headaches.
TBI headaches are a result of traumatic brain injury, which occurs when you get a blow to the head or some other traumatic brain injury. A TBI can occur when the brain gets hit so hard it gets bruised, or bleeds, or blood vessels get torn. They range in severity and have a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, blurry vision, difficulty concentrating, and internal bleeding of the skull. The scary part of THIs is that someone might have one and not even know because the symptoms can have a delayed onset.
Headache from Whiplash
Whiplash is a neck injury that commonly occurs in car accidents, especially common with rear-end collisions. The jerking motion caused by the force of the crash where the head “whips’ ‘ back and forth causes the neck muscles to stretch and tear. The neck tendons and ligaments also get damaged, leading to headaches which are felt most strongly at the base of the skull where it connects to the neck. If you don’t get treatment for whiplash you could end up with a chronic neck injury and limited range of motion in the long run.
One may also experience constant headaches due to a fractured skull or neck bone. This is a very painful injury that you’ll know immediately if you’ve experienced it. When a car accident is severe enough to fracture a bone, you may very well have a brain injury as well. Your doctor should have done testing to ensure you are in the clear for TBIs.
Anytime a person experiences a head or neck fracture, they could also experience confusion, nausea, trouble speaking, and pain or stiffness in the neck. The headache can be localized near the actual injury, but doesn’t always occur in that way. In very severe cases, you could even bleed from the nose, ears, or eyes.
Migraines cause severe, throbbing headaches and can occur episodically or chronically with a pulsing sensation. You may have extreme sensitivity to external stimuli like light and sound you have a migraine, as well as vomiting or nausea.
Nerve Injury Headaches
Nerve dysfunction is one of those insidious causes of headaches after a car accident that you may not find out about until after many rounds of testing and process of elimination. If the occipital nerve or the cervical nerves get injured or inflamed, this can cause headaches and other adverse symptoms that are described by patients as piercing or throbbing pain around the ears, neck, or back of the head. The medical term for this type of nerve condition is Occipital Neuralgia, which describes a pinched nerve and muscle stiffness in the neck.
A tension headache is caused by stress and can feel like you have a tight rubber band around your head. It’s usually a mild to moderate degree of pain and is similar to migraines.
Specific Treatments for Trauma-Induced Headaches
There are various treatment methods for headaches after a car accident. Your doctor will assess the nature and degree of your headaches and find out what your particular triggers are to get a better understanding of how to treat and manage them.
Headaches can sometimes attenuate or get less severe over time, but treatment can help facilitate this process. More importantly, you have to treat the underlying injury that’s causing the headaches for them to fully subside.
We’ve seen many of our clients make gradual recoveries with physical therapy and rehabilitation to help eliminate the headache triggers and treat the root causes. Here are some examples of non-medication therapies that are often used to treat and manage headaches after car accidents:
- Nerve stimulation
- CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy, a type of psychological treatment)
- Physical therapy (PT)
- Chiropractic adjustments
- Occupational therapy (OT)
- Relaxation techniques
- Speech therapy
When these treatments aren’t effective, doctors may resort to medications. Headache medications can range from an OTC anti-inflammatory mild pain medicine (e.gTylenol) to prescription medications.
Follow These Steps if You Are Experiencing Headaches After a Denver Car Accident
If you find yourself with lingering headaches following a Denver car accident, do not wait to take action because that can end up hurting your health and your claim. Headaches are common and can often be mistaken for a harmless side-effect of life and stress. But making this false assumption can be dangerous for you and become a huge bother if you miss the chance to prevent a chronic or disabling condition. Here are some steps to take if you find yourself with chronic and uncomfortable headaches after a car accident:
See a Doctor, Preferably a Specialist
The only way to get an accurate assessment and diagnosis for your headaches is by seeing a doctor who specializes in head injuries. You could see a neurologist, orthopedic doctor, physiatrist, therapist, or a neurosurgeon. If you’re unsure of what type of doctor to see, start by going to see your primary care physician and they may refer you to a specialist. They may refer you to a car accident injury specialist.
Seeing a specialist ASAP is not only important for your health, but also to ensure you have documentation for your case purposes. A doctor who specializes in these types of injury cases knows the importance of documenting your medical history appropriately for insurance claims. They also know how to document it in a way that shows a clear connection between the accident and your headaches.
This Is Not the Time to Try and Be a Tough Guy
Are you one of those people who hates going to the doctor and waits until you experience unbearable or crippling pain before going to see one? If so, this is not the time to try and “tough it out”. You need to be proactive about your headaches rather than waiting and hoping they will go away.
Stick To Your Doctor’s Orders for Best Results
A doctor might prescribe your certain medications and a tailored plan for headache and pain management. The treatment will be specific to your diagnosis and be fit to suit your lifestyle and needs. As such, it’s best if you follow your doctor’s orders exactly as directed. And don’t be afraid to ask questions or contact your doctor for clarification. Your health is at stake so there is no illegitimate question or concern.
Familiarize Yourself With Your Legal Rights So You Can Make Informed Decisions
Once a doctor confirms that your headaches are a result of the car accident, they can prepare the documentation you need to give to your insurance company or lawyer. Your Denver car accident lawyer can help guide you on the next steps to ensure you get the full compensation you deserve.
Hire An Attorney
An experienced Denver car accident lawyer can help you build your personal injury claim and identify all the damages for which you are eligible to seek compensation. The sooner you act, the better, because your attorney can get to work on your case sooner. It’s never a good idea to wait too long before filing a personal injury claim.
Contact a Denver Personal Injury Lawyer Today
If you or a loved one is now living with headaches that interfere with your life after a car accident, time to call a Denver personal injury attorney. Even a seemingly minor car crash has the propensity to cause injuries that you are unaware of. In the long run, it might be a serious injury, or even worsen while you avoid or delay medical attention. That’s why you should not ignore your headaches or hope they will go away on their own.
Once you get the medical care you need, call our legal team for assistance on the next steps. We are compassionate and experienced Denver personal injury lawyers who have a successful track record winning generous financial awards for car accident victims with cases similar to yours. We will handle your case from beginning to end and make sure all your needs are met so you can focus on your recovery.
Contact us today for a free initial consultation.