A car accident can cause a headache right away or months later. Episodes may also go away in a few weeks or last for months. Treatment can depend on the type of headache, so it’s important to have a doctor review your symptoms.

A post-traumatic headache is a type of headache that can occur within 7 days of having a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or after regaining consciousness. This can happen after a motor vehicle accident, sports injury, or a fall.

This type of headache occurs in 30% to 90% of TBIs. People may have migraine-like or tension-like symptoms, including throbbing pain, light sensitivity, or nausea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that motor vehicle crashes account for 2 million injuries per year in the United States.

In this article, we’ll discuss the types of post-traumatic headaches that tend to occur after motor vehicle accidents and which treatment plans doctors may recommend.

The most common headache types after a car accident include:

Whiplash headache

Whiplash headache, also called cervicogenic headache, can occur after a neck injury that results from a traffic accident or a slip.

Researchers behind a 2022 study noted that people might confuse this type of headache with a migraine episode or tension headache. In most cases, pain develops on one side of the head. It originates from the neck and may radiate to the back of the head.

Other symptoms of a whiplash headache may include:

  • neck stiffness
  • pain around the eyes
  • pain on one side of your face
  • vision problems

Concussion headache

According to the American Headache Society, 95% of people with a concussion have an increased chance of developing a headache. Two-thirds of these people may experience migraine-like symptoms.

A concussion is a brain injury that causes the brain to bounce or twist. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) says that concussion causes short-term communication and movement problems which may take months to improve.

Some people may also develop post-concussive symptoms like dizziness and brain fog.

Fracture headache

When there’s a forceful impact, your skull may fracture, causing bone displacement or splintering of the bone. This requires immediate medical care.

A skull fracture may cause headaches, loss of balance, and bruising. Headaches can be persistent, and the pain usually occurs at the back of the neck or head.

A 2021 study suggested that people with cheekbone fractures have an increased risk of developing a post-traumatic headache 3 months after the injury.

Muscle strain and spasm (tension) headache

Tension headaches happen when the neck and scalp muscles contract and become tense.

They may cause pain on both sides of the head and the back of the neck, and it may feel as if you have a band wrapped around your head.

Occipital neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a neurological condition that occurs when there’s damage or inflammation to the occipital nerves which run through your scalp.

It causes burning, throbbing, and aching pain.

The pain may resemble migraine-like pain, according to the NINDS. It usually starts in the neck and then spreads upward, and it may affect the back of your head, scalp, and forehead.

The scalp may also feel sensitive to the touch, as touching it may cause severe pain.

Can headaches start months after a car accident?

Post-traumatic headaches typically occur within 7 days after a head injury. Still, some people may also develop a headache up to 1 year after a car accident.

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If you’ve been in a car accident, it may be best to see a doctor so that they can assess your symptoms and determine the cause of your headache.

They may ask about any head, neck, or face injuries you may have recently had and perform a physical exam.

You may have to undergo a CT scan and MRI exam so that healthcare professionals check that you don’t have a brain hemorrhage or ischemic stroke.

Medications, physical therapy, and home remedies may help treat post-traumatic headaches.


Medical professionals may prescribe medications depending on the type of headache you may have.

They may recommend taking migraine medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or triptans.

If the pain persists, you may have to take preventive medications. These include:

Physical therapy

Physical therapy may be beneficial if you have a whiplash headache. One research review suggested that the following types of physical therapy may help relieve your symptoms:

Home remedies

Some home remedies may help prevent headaches, such as:

  • maintaining a regular sleep pattern
  • taking medications as instructed by your doctor
  • avoiding drinking caffeinated beverages
  • engaging in aerobic exercises, such as walking and stretching

How long you experience headaches after a car accident depends on the type of headache. In most cases, post-traumatic headaches resolve in a few weeks, but sometimes, symptoms can take much longer to improve.

If you have post-concussive syndrome, your symptoms may persist for up to 14 days in 9 out of 10 cases. But in severe cases, they can last for 3 months or longer.

A post-traumatic headache can occur after a motor vehicle accident. There are different types, such as whiplash, fracture, and tension headaches.

These may affect one or both sides of your head. Pain may also develop in your neck.

It may be a good idea to see a doctor if you have a headache and have recently had a head injury. They may perform diagnostic tests and recommend the proper treatment for your symptoms.