Post-traumatic headache can be acute or chronic, but is a common symptom and complaint of those involved in an auto injury, or those who have experienced a “whiplash”. In fact, neck pain is the only complaint more common than headaches after a crash.
Patients with this condition often submit to extensive medical investigations such as CT and MRI or the head to determine the specific cause of pain, which are costly and generally unsuccessful at improving quality of life. Headaches can be present in those with head trauma or without head trauma, and are often present even if there has been NO associated concussion.
In 2001, research by Radenov et al. discussed these issues. In their paper, they reported on whiplash patients with resulting mild-to-moderate head trauma were evaluated for headache type. The 112 patients experienced headaches at least twice per week, and had experienced the injury an average of two-and-a-half years. (meaning they had two-and-a-half years of symptoms after their crash involvement.
Tension-type headache was the most common (37% of patients), followed by migraine (27%) and cervicogenic headache (18%). It is important to note here that cervicogenic means head pain that is arising specifically from the neck, not the head, and tension headaches are very similar. Regarding migraine, there was no significant difference between genders, and patients who had suffered loss of consciousness were not more likely to experience migraine. Pain was usually bilateral (59% of cases), but 25% of cases had pain on one side only and 16% had pain that alternated between sides. Neck pain occurred concurrently in 93% of whiplash sufferers.
They concluded the poor responsiveness to current treatment for chronic headaches in whiplash patients may indicate that treatment methods are not specific enough to the type of headache. The authors suggest that treatment plans for chronic whiplash headache should address the particular type of headache. A detailed analysis of headache symptoms is needed following whiplash in posttraumatic headache patients to determine optimal patient care.
As a chiropractic physician who has studied these injuries extensively and treated hundreds of MVC patients, I totally agree with Radanov’s conclusions. Often patients come to my office with acute headaches post trauma, which can be easier to treat than chronic headache, but they also come to us after 1-2 years of failed therapy by other doctors or physical therapists. Taking the time to examine every patient carefully, tracking where the pain syndromes are located on the head, and confirming the tissues involved with headache pain is paramount for appropriate treatment.
We often find that headaches are arising from the ligaments of the upper neck as well as the joint spaces, and that the neck curve has been altered and often buckled compared to the normal position. It is only when these factors are specifically addressed that we are effective in reducing the chronic headache pain that had previously been unresponsive to prior treatment.
If you or a loved one in the Fort Walton Beach area are experiencing headaches, especially after an auto accident, you must contact a qualified Chiropractic BioPhysics spine rehabilitation specialist – such as myself, Dr. Shawn Leatherman DC, or my colleague, Dr. David Back, DC at Integrity Chiropractic for a consultation to see if you qualify for care.