Headache After A Car Accident: Causes & Consequences (2024)

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 5 mins

Headaches can result from various physical or mental injuries. Many crash victims experience a headache after a car accident.

A headache will often go away within a few hours or days after the crash. However, some headaches signify serious injuries or life-threatening conditions. You could require medical treatment and hospitalization. Understanding the causes and consequences of a crash-related headache could save your life.

Headache Causes

Headaches can involve many types of head pain. Pain is your body telling your brain that it has suffered tissue damage. For example, you might feel pain on the surface of your head due to an impact.

Crash victims can also experience a headache without head trauma. When you experience pain from a headache after a car accident but didn’t hit your head, it might occur behind the eyes, inside the skull or in the jaw or head muscles. These headaches indicate an injury other than head trauma. The possible causes of a headache can include the following:

Head Injury

Head trauma can cause a headache. For example, an impact on the head can cause a contusion or scalp hematoma. A contusion, or bruise, usually happens when an impact damages muscle tissue. Tiny blood vessels rupture, causing pain, discoloration and swelling.

A scalp hematoma can develop when you bang your scalp or forehead. Since you have little to no muscle in these areas of your head, the blood vessels under the skin rupture. The resulting blood clot creates a bump or knot on your head. The damaged soft tissues may feel tender and produce head pain.

More serious forms of head trauma can also cause headaches. A skull fracture, facial fracture or broken nose can cause bruising and pain near the injury.

Brain Injury

A brain injury can cause a headache and nausea after a car accident. During a car collision, your brain can shift inside your skull. A mild brain injury, called a concussion, happens when the brain suffers damage from the pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid and meninges as it moves. A concussion causes symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Unconsciousness
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Clumsiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurry vision
  • Nausea and vomiting

A cerebral contusion happens when the brain moves so violently that it hits the inside of the skull. The resulting bruise on the surface of the brain can cause permanent brain damage. Symptoms of a cerebral contusion can include a loss of consciousness, headache and seizures. This injury can also cause the victim to slip into a coma or even die.

Neck Injury

Neck injuries can cause pain that radiates from the neck into the head. These injuries can often cause a headache after rear-ended crashes. Two common neck injuries from car crashes include whiplash and disc injuries.

When your car gets hit, your head whips back and forth or side to side, depending on the type of collision. Whiplash results from the stress your neck experiences from the motion of your head. These injuries damage the soft tissues in your neck. Since the muscles and tendons run up to your skull, the pain from whiplash can radiate into your head, producing a headache.

Collagen discs cushion the vertebrae. As your head whips back and forth, your discs get compressed. They can deform by herniating or bulging. A disc injury can cause neck and head pain in two ways. First, the deformed disc destabilizes your neck, straining the neck muscles connected to the skull. Second, an injured disc can press on nerves in your neck, causing pain that radiates into your head, shoulders and arms.

Eye Injury

Eye injuries can cause pain in your head. An injury to the globe or orbital, the medical terms for the eyeball and eye socket, can produce a headache after a car accident. For example, hitting your face on the steering wheel or dashboard can fracture the orbital, bruise the eye and face muscles or even rupture the globe. All of these injuries can produce a headache.

Eye injuries can also cause a headache indirectly. You might experience light sensitivity after injuring your eye in a crash. This sensitivity can produce a headache when bright lights, including sunlight, hit your eyes.


Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is supposed to prime your body for the fight-or-flight response by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure can cause headaches. Thus, your crash-related anxiety can affect you physically in the form of a headache.

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Consequences of Injuries That Cause Headaches

Headaches can affect you in many ways, including the following:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Tinnitus
  • Blurry vision

Chronic headaches might affect your ability to work. As a result, you may need to change jobs, reduce your hours or stop working. You might also be unable to perform tasks around the home like cooking, cleaning and yard maintenance.

What to Do When You Suffer a Headache After a Car Accident

When you experience a headache after a car accident, you should consider seeking medical care. A doctor can diagnose the cause of your pain and determine whether your headache signifies any life-threatening injuries.

For example, a headache can result from brain injuries like cerebral contusions, diffuse axonal injuries (DAIs) and subdural hematomas. Without emergency surgery, these injuries will lead to coma and death.

A doctor can also explain how to treat a headache from car accident trauma. If you suffered head trauma, the doctor may recommend rest, ice packs and anti-inflammatory medication. Conversely, if your headache and nausea after a car accident resulted from a concussion, doctors may not prescribe any treatment and may just monitor your condition.

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Headaches are common after car accidents. Suffering a headache is not necessarily a sign of disaster. But you should take all car crash injury symptoms seriously, including headaches. In some cases, a headache can accompany a life-threatening brain injury or permanent brain damage.

ConsumerShield supports accident victims with education, guidance and resources. We offer free consultations to review your accident and the resulting injuries. We will help you connect with experienced accident lawyers so you can pursue fair compensation for your car crash injuries. Contact us to learn how we can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Every headache is different. If your headache is so severe you cannot drive yourself from the crash scene, you should ask for an ambulance. Similarly, you should request an ambulance if paralysis, chest pains, breathing difficulties, irregular heartbeat or other serious symptoms accompany your headache.

  • The duration of a headache will depend on its causes. Some headaches will go away once you reach home and rest for a while. Other headaches will last several days or longer. The longer your headache lasts, the more urgently you should seek medical attention.

  • Whiplash headaches result from neck injuries. You will feel whiplash-related headaches in the back and sides of your head where the neck muscles attach to your skull. You may also feel head pain that starts in your neck and radiates into your head.

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