Headache After a Car Accident, but You Didn’t Hit Your Head?

Written By: The Champion Firm Team

Date Posted: 01.15.24

Category: Car Accident

Headaches are fairly common after a traumatic event such as a car accident. A headache is often the result of too much stress that may overstimulate the brain. However, it can also indicate a serious underlying condition, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

About 215,000 Americans require hospitalization for TBIs every year, with motor vehicle accidents contributing to a large percentage of such hospitalizations. Many of the patients who suffer traumatic brain injuries in a car accident experience headaches, which differ in terms of the location and intensity of the pain.

However, what many people do not realize is that you do not necessarily need to hit your head against the steering wheel, dashboard, headrest, window, or other objects to experience a headache due to a concussion or another condition.

In this post, we will look at the different types of headaches and explore the possible causes of a headache after an accident in which you didn’t hit your head. If you have any head trauma or other injuries from a crash, speak with a car accident attorney as soon as possible about your legal options.

Types of Headaches After a Car Accident

When a motor vehicle accident occurs, a victim may have a headache for hours, days, weeks, or even months. While your doctor can pinpoint your treatment needs, a car accident lawyer can identify your rights to compensation depending on your injuries.

Post-car accident scene: A remorseful man reflects on the damage incurred during the car wreck.

Headaches after a car accident differ in location, frequency, and severity.

  • Tension headache. A tension headache is one of the most common types of headache that people experience after a motor vehicle accident and is usually from muscle tension (hence the name). The pain is typically mild to moderate and is a band-like sensation around the forehead or the back of the head. You might also feel some pressure in your neck and shoulders.
  • Migraine. Migraine headaches are severe and often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine headaches, which occur due to changes in the brain and the blood vessels, might take a while to show up and can last for several days or weeks. Statistically, migraines affect over 37 million individuals of all genders and ages in the United States.
  • Cluster headache. Cluster headaches are rare but severe headaches that can occur in clusters or cycles. They usually occur on one side of the head and accompany a runny or stuffy nose, red eyes, and sweating. The pain can be excruciating and can last for up to three hours (sometimes longer). Cluster headaches after a car accident might indicate a serious head injury, which is why it is vital to seek medical attention immediately.
  • Cervicogenic headache. Injuries to the neck or cervical spine cause cervicogenic headaches. This headache is a sharp stabbing pain on one side of the head or neck. The pain might intensify with movement or certain positions.
  • Rebound headache. Rebound headaches are headaches that occur as a result of medication overuse. If you take painkillers frequently after a car accident, you might experience rebound headaches. These headaches are typically relieved by stopping the use of the painkillers.

You must go to an emergency room or hospital after the accident to determine the underlying cause of your headache, regardless of its type and severity. Then, consult a car accident attorney immediately.

Possible Causes of Headaches After a Car Accident When You Didn’t Hit Your Head

Many people experience headaches after an automobile accident, but what may surprise you is that not all headaches are the result of a direct hit to the head during the crash. Several causes of headaches can arise after an accident, even if you did not hit your head.

Post-Concussion Headache

A post-concussion headache is from the brain moving inside the skull due to sudden movement, which can cause damage to fragile structures like blood vessels, nerve fibers, and brain tissue. This headache can occur immediately after the accident or several days later. If you experience a post-concussion headache (or any type of headache, for that matter), it is critical to seek medical attention as soon as possible to rule out anything serious.


Every year, more than two million Americans suffer a whiplash injury. Whiplash is a common injury that occurs during automobile accidents when your head and neck suddenly jolt back and forth. This type of injury can cause damage to the muscles, ligaments, and nerves in the neck and head, leading to headaches, neck pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. The headaches associated with whiplash can be mild or severe and last several weeks or months.

Spasm or Contraction

Headaches can also be from muscle spasms or contractions in the neck and head. This can occur as a result of the trauma from a collision. Muscle spasms often lead to tension headaches, characterized by a dull, aching pain in the head and neck. These headaches can be debilitating and can last for several hours or days.

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve can also cause headaches after a car crash. When the nerves in the neck and head become compressed due to the trauma, the injured victim may experience headaches. A sharp, shooting pain in the head and neck typically characterizes these headaches.

Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a condition that occurs when the occipital nerves are irritated or inflamed. These nerves are a collection of nerves that run from the base of the skull to the top of the neck. The most common symptoms of occipital neuralgia are severe, throbbing headaches that typically occur on one side of the head.

Never Ignore Headaches After a Car Accident

A person who experiences a headache after being involved in a car accident may think it’s nothing serious and skip going to the doctor, especially if they didn’t hit their head. However, do not try to shake it off or ignore your headaches after the crash due to the following reasons.

A Headache Can Signal a Serious Condition

A headache can be an indication that you have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or another serious condition. TBIs range from mild concussions to debilitating injuries that can cause permanent brain damage or even death.

Unfortunately, symptoms of a TBI can take days or even weeks to present themselves fully, so you must get checked out by a medical professional right away.

If you ignore your headache and the TBI goes untreated, it can lead to long-term damage to your health and can even threaten your life. Statistically speaking, a persistent vegetative state or death is a likely outcome in about 70 percent of all moderate head injury cases.

If Untreated, the Underlying Condition Can Become Worse and Impact Recovery

Failing to address your headache immediately can lead to other problems. Your headache can be a sign of something more serious, such as a neck injury or a spinal cord injury, even if you did not hit your head.

If the underlying condition goes untreated, it can lead to difficulties in your recovery and cause lingering symptoms that can impact your quality of life for years.

Legal Ramifications Due to Delay in Medical Treatment

Delaying or postponing medical treatment can jeopardize your personal injury claim after a car accident. This is because insurance companies will use any delay in medical treatment as proof that you suffered no injuries in the accident or that your injuries are not as severe as you claim.

In the worst-case scenario, if you experience a headache after the crash and do not seek medical attention immediately, you may lose any compensation you should have received in a lawsuit or settlement.

Headaches Could Be a Sign of Emotional Trauma

Although headaches are a physical symptom after a car accident, it’s entirely possible that they can be due to emotional trauma caused by the crash. For this reason, you should never take your headache or any other symptoms after an accident lightly, as they can indicate an underlying psychological condition.

Your car accident attorney will identify all compensable losses from your headaches and underlying injuries.

Tests to Diagnose the Underlying Cause of a Headache After a Car Accident

When you visit a doctor after a car accident, one of the first things they will ask is, “What complaints do you have?” If you tell them that a headache bothers you, the doctor is likely to order additional tests to determine the underlying cause of your headaches.

Physician discussing MRI brain scan results with male patient, providing diagnosis for diseases and head injuries.

Some of the tests used to diagnose the cause of a headache after an accident include:

  • Physical examination. If you complain of a headache or other symptoms after a car accident, your doctor will perform a physical examination to assess the extent of your injuries and locate any injured areas. They may also check your neurological responses, such as reflexes, muscle strength, and sensitivity to touch. Your doctor may also inquire about any medications you are taking and allergies you may have to determine their effect on your condition.
  • Blood tests. Blood tests can detect if any abnormalities are contributing to your headaches. Additionally, blood tests can indicate swelling or bleeding in the brain or if you have any underlying health conditions.
  • Brain function tests. These tests measure your cognitive function to diagnose any traumatic brain injury. This can include memory tests, problem-solving tests, and reaction time tests. Brain function tests can help your doctor better understand your injury’s severity and necessary treatment options.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans. CT scans provide detailed, 3D images of the brain, making identifying any trauma or abnormalities easier. CT scans are useful for identifying brain swelling, bleeding, or other structural problems in the brain.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. An MRI is similar to a CT scan but uses magnetic fields to create images of the brain. This produces more detailed and clearer images of the brain, the soft tissue, and blood vessels. MRIs are usually more precise than CT scans and are particularly useful for assessing nerve damage.

Some or all of these tests may be necessary for your doctor to evaluate your condition and rule out any serious conditions that may be causing your headaches.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Headaches After a Car Accident

Often, people who experience headaches in the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident may not understand what they are dealing with. Below, you can find answers to the frequently asked questions about post-accident headaches.

However, do not misconstrue the information below as medical or legal advice. Always go to a doctor if you have any medical concerns and talk to a car accident attorney if you want to explore your legal options after the crash.

Is a headache normal after a car accident if I didn’t hit my head?

Yes, it is perfectly normal (and common) to experience a headache after a motor vehicle accident, even if you didn’t hit your head.

After a car crash, your body goes through intense physical and emotional stress. The force of the impact can jolt your body, causing tension in the neck and shoulder muscles and resulting in a headache.

Can a headache after a car accident be a migraine?

Yes, car accident victims can experience migraines. Post-traumatic migraines are migraines that occur after a head or neck injury. If you are experiencing migraines after a car accident, do not hesitate to seek medical attention.

When should I go to a doctor for a headache after a car accident?

If you experience a headache after a car accident, seeing a doctor as soon as possible is a good idea, even if you do not have any other symptoms and the rest of your body feels completely fine. Headaches can be a sign of a serious underlying condition, like a traumatic brain injury, whiplash, or a spine injury.

Can headaches start weeks or months after a car accident?

Yes, it is possible to have headaches weeks or even months after the traumatic event. It is essential to keep track of any symptoms you experience after a motor vehicle accident, and if headaches (or other symptoms) persist, seek medical attention.

How long can a headache last after a car accident?

The duration of a headache after a traumatic event can vary depending on the severity of the injury. In some cases, headaches can last for a few hours or days; in others, they can persist for weeks or months. Either way, you should seek medical attention so that a doctor can evaluate your condition and provide treatment options that can help manage the pain. In most cases, post-concussion headaches get better within a few weeks after the traumatic event, though some patients may take much longer to improve. If a patient suffers a serious concussion, headaches can persist for a year or much longer.

What are my legal rights if I experience a headache after a car accident?

If the accident resulted from someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for any underlying conditions that cause your headaches and any medical bills you have incurred. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you can file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the responsible party.

What damages can I seek if I have headaches after a car accident?

Darl Champion

Car Accident Attorney, Darl Champion

If you have headaches after a car accident and have been diagnosed with any medical condition, you may seek damages for various expenses and losses. Some common damages include medical expenses, lost income, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, and pain and suffering.

Keep detailed records of all your expenses and losses related to the accident, including medical bills, receipts, and proof of lost income.

Your personal injury lawyer can calculate the damages you are entitled to, collect evidence on your behalf, and explain your legal options to pursue fair compensation.

About the Author

The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. is a full-service personal injury law firm serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. Our award-winning team of attorneys specializes in car accidents, wrongful death, premises liability, and slip-and-fall cases. Learn more about our team here.