The sudden and intense back-and-forth motion of the body and the neck can injure the delicate cervical facet joints in the base of the neck and cause a headache. The headache people feel is either due to the disruption of the cervical joints or inflammation and irritation of the nearby nerves. The symptoms of whiplash headache are often indistinguishable from other common types of headaches. They may occur immediately after an injury and often varies in location and intensity.
Women are more prone to develop headaches after a whiplash injury. The reason for increased probability is unclear; however, doctors think it might be secondary to the smaller size of the cervical vertebrae of the female neck.
Symptoms of whiplash headache
Approximately two-thirds of patients with cervical spine injury experience headaches. About half of those develop mild to severe headaches after a whiplash injury. People often describe it as feeling pain in the back of their head, at their forehead, or behind their eyes. Few people get symptoms all over the head (not specific to any part of the head).
Following a whiplash injury, people often experience a headache in the morning after the accident. The pain tends to sweep up from the neck and back of the head. The intensity of the pain varies greatly and largely depends on the collision force. Most sufferers find that;
- Moving the neck in either direction often aggravates the pain – particularly if you extend the neck (looking up to the ceiling)
- Shoulder pain often accompanies headache, and touching the trapezius muscles (the big muscle over the back of the neck) exacerbates pain and spread discomfort upwards.
How long does whiplash last?
In many whiplash cases, neck pain and headache go away within a few days or even more within 2 to 3 weeks. However, studies and clinical data show that between 14% and 30% of people still have mild to moderate headaches after a year.
Can whiplash cause chronic headaches?
Some people with a serious whiplash injury do experience chronic headaches for years. Doctors may be able to diagnose their source with the help of modern imaging techniques. In most cases, the source includes damaged neck joints, herniated disks, and torn neck ligaments.
Can whiplash cause migraines?
Immediate neck and head injuries can cause an accumulation of fluid or blood in and around the brain. It causes severe pain and other troublesome symptoms, such as confusion, blurring of vision, and vomiting. BUT, in many cases, the collection can be the culprit in lingering or recurring migraines.
Headache following a whiplash injury can initially be treated with various treatment modalities. These include;
- Heat or cold therapy – Apply hot or cold packs to the neck for 15 minutes. Heat soothes the inflamed muscles, and cold packs help reduce inflammation by constricting the surrounding blood vessels.
- Pain-relieving medicines – The use of over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is linked to easing pain and reducing inflammation.
- Other useful options – If pain persists, you can go to a physiotherapist or a chiropractor for therapy. Injections of steroid or anesthetic agents in the cervical joints may provide temporary relief. Radiofrequency pain-blocking is another useful technique that may provide long-term relief.