Whiplash: Headaches

Many people each year are involved in auto accidents that result in whiplash-type injuries. Along with a host of other symptoms, headaches are probably one of the most common complaints of the injured.

Depending on the mechanics and physics of the impact, there are many different structures of the neck that can be injured that can cause a headache. Three of the most common structures are strained muscles, injured facet joints, and concussions.

Strained muscles

In many cases, the violent wrenching of the neck experienced in an auto injury can occur before the muscles of the neck have time to brace. This results in a rapid and forceful over-stretching of the muscle fibers. Once stretched in this manner, the damaged fibers begin to swell and the muscle responds with spasms.  If the injured and spasmed muscle is one that is attached to the base of the skull, it can cause increased pressure or tension resulting in what is called a suboccipital headache.

Further, in some instances these muscle spasms compress or irritate certain nerves, traveling through the muscles, as they proceed up the back of the skull.  This can result in the type of headache that seems to travel from the back of the skull up and around the ear.

Injured Facet Joints

With the exception of the first vertebra (spinal bone) in our neck, our vertebrae are connected to each other in three places: the disc in the front and two small joints at the back of each vertebra known as facet joints. When healthy, these facet joints control the normal movement of our neck, allowing smooth pain-free rotation and side bending of the head on the neck.

A fibrous capsule, that contains many small nerve fibers, surrounds each of these facet joints. With the violent motion inflicted upon the neck in a whiplash-type injury, the capsules of the facet joint can become overstretched causing irritation of the nerves. Research has shown that irritation of the facet joints associated with the 2nd & 3rd vertebra in our neck can cause a headache type pain that begins in the base of the skull and radiates up the back of the head.


Another common cause of headaches after an auto accident is a concussion. This is a result of a blow to the head, striking the head against something, or the rapid and violent shaking of the brain inside the skull. While much is known about concussions, researchers still do not fully understand the ins and outs of the altered brain functions that occur from trauma to the brain. Suffice it to say, concussions can be a major source of headaches.

Headaches after an auto injury is a common symptom. As you can see there are multiple injured structures that could be the cause of a headache. Proper diagnosis is the key to relief!

Seeking care from a health professional, such as a chiropractor, who is trained and experienced in treating trauma cases is essential. Research has also demonstrated that the sooner the correct type of care is initiated, the better the chances for a full recovery.

Dr. Adam Elsey has been treating injury victims for years.  When treating with Dr. Adam Elsey, it is evident that his care for his patients is his motivation to help injured patients get well. Dr. Elsey has helped thousands achieve a better quality of life. If you desire a doctor whose first priority is his patients, then look no further than Dr. Adam Elsey and the staff of North County Pain Relief Center. Call now at (314)731-4201.