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Have a Headache After a Car Accident? What It Could Mean


Minor headaches and nausea following a crash are fairly common. These symptoms often resolve themselves after a day or two.

For some people though, their headache never gets better or is accompanied by other worrying symptoms. We’ll examine what triggers a headache after an accident and signs to watch out for that may indicate a more serious underlying condition.

As always, if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, see a doctor as soon as possible for a full examination.

Post-Car Accident Headaches

After a car accident, the endorphins and adrenaline rushing through your veins can mask soft tissue injuries and pain for up to two days. This can lead you to believe that you are fine.

Watch out for the following symptoms of a post-traumatic headache after you have been in an accident:

  • Pressure or tightness across the forehead
  • Dull, aching sensations in the head
  • Pressure on the sides or back of the head
  • Tenderness in the scalp, neck, or shoulders

Headache pain after a crash can last for an hour or an entire week. Your headaches may come and go, or you may suffer from constant headaches.

If you suffer from headaches for more than 15 days over three months, you should seek medical attention for chronic headache pain.

Types of Headaches

That pounding in your skull shouldn’t be ignored. Car accident headaches can indicate a range of injuries, all of which need to be taken seriously from the start.

Cervicogenic Headaches - This is a chronic type of headache that is caused by injuries to the joints, ligaments, nerves, and arteries of the upper neck and back of the head. The neck may have a reduced range of motion and the pain often presents on one side of the head.

Chronic Facial Headaches - Also known as trigeminal neuralgia, chronic facial headaches are accompanied by severe bursts of pain along the cheek and jaw. This is caused by pressure on the trigeminal nerve, which is located just forward of the upper earlobe with nerve branches extending above and below the eye, along the lower jaw, and into the ear and nose.

Cluster Headaches - These are a severe type of headache and occur in groups, often causing eye pain.

Fracture Headaches - A fractured skull or neck bone often emits pain that is localized to the injured area. Other signs may include nausea, confusion, slurred speech, or neck stiffness. Brain injury is a concern if not treated promptly.

Migraine Headaches - Migraines can be episodic or chronic with a wide range of triggers. They cause strong or severe throbbing pain on the sides of the head or in a halo around the skull. A car accident may cause a person to begin suffering migraines or increase their frequency.

Nerve Dysfunction Headaches - Occipital neuralgia happens when the occipital nerves, which run along the neck and scalp, are injured or inflamed due to pinching or muscle tightness. This kind of headache causes severe throbbing, piercing, or shooting pain.

Post-Traumatic Headaches - These can develop up to a week after a car accident injury or concussion and may last several months.

Tension Headaches - This type of headache is caused by stress or muscle tension, both of which commonly occur with auto accidents. The pain feels like a steady mild to moderate ache.

When Is a Headache More Than Just a Headache?

Generally, a headache after a crash isn’t something to worry about. Many people suffer from tension headaches after an accident due to muscle stiffness, stress, or anxiety. You may even experience delayed headaches up to three days after a wreck.

However, if the headache is accompanied by severe pain, it could be a sign of deeper issues such as migraines. Symptoms of intense headaches or migraines include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to lights or sounds
  • Severe pain behind the eye or ear
  • Flashing lights
  • Debilitating pain that prevents you from performing normal tasks

Some of these symptoms overlap with those indicating concussions. This is yet another reason why it’s vital to have a healthcare professional screen you after a car accident.


A whiplash injury can happen when the neck and head are jerked back and forth suddenly. It most commonly happens due to car accidents, particularly after being rear-ended.

Whiplash symptoms include acute headaches, soreness in the neck and nearby muscles, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. Although it often heals on its own, whiplash may indicate more serious issues such as strains, cervical disc injuries, and facet joint injuries.


A car accident can cause a concussion if you hit your head on the steering wheel, window, or other objects in the car. They can also occur even if your head didn’t hit anything — the force of the crash is sometimes enough to shake the brain about rapidly.

Concussions may also be referred to as mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI). Top symptoms include blurry vision, confusion, dizziness, balance problems, sleep problems, irritability, and memory and concentration difficulties.

In addition to a concussion, chronic or frequent headaches can also be a sign of a head fracture or subdural hematoma (brain bleed).

Important Note: You do not have to suffer obvious exterior trauma or lose consciousness in order to have sustained a concussion or traumatic brain injury.

Post-Traumatic Headache Stats

A recent clinical study examining car accident injury victims who suffered from headaches found that:

  • 37% had tension headaches
  • 27% had migraines
  • 18% had cervicogenic headaches
  • 18% did not fall into any specific category

Drivers and passengers who wear their seatbelts and have their seat’s headrest at the appropriate height are less likely to suffer a post-traumatic headache.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Your Headache After a Car Accident

Don’t try to tough it out and wait for your symptoms to get better. Your headache, especially if it’s severe, persistent, or progressive, may indicate something is wrong.

You need to let a doctor examine you sooner rather than later. Not only could they catch something serious, getting an exam keeps the insurance company from arguing that your injuries weren’t caused by the accident.

Atlanta Car Accident Lawyer

Headaches represent a significant health burden. They can impact your quality of life, relationships, productivity, and focus.

Constant headaches after a traffic collision can be a sign of a serious injury, especially after a hit to the head. Don’t dismiss your headache pain after an accident and hope it goes away on its own.

Should it turn out you need long-term medical care for your car accident injuries, call our experienced car accident attorneys at Gary Martin Hays & Associates. We can negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf and get you in touch with chiropractors and specialists to help treat you.

You deserve high-quality legal advice and support while you rest and recover. Call (770) 934-8000 for a free case evaluation with one of our personal injury lawyers.

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