Whiplash (Motor Vehicle Accident) Associated Headaches
What are Whiplash-Associated Headaches?
Whiplash injuries commonly occur during a motor vehicle accident whereby the driver has been hit from the front-end, rear-end or a side impact. Whiplash can also occur from other injuries such as diving, sports related injuries or other injuries which may disturb the neck. Whiplash is categorised as an acceleration and deceleration mechanism of energy transferred into the neck. The injury sustained usually results in a bony, muscular or ligamentous dysfunction typically in the cervical joints of the neck.1
Whiplash injuries can cause mild to severe headaches and migraines depending on the extent of injury. Those with this injury may result in headaches and migraines on one side of the head in a focal point, or even both sides. Symptoms can spread down to the neck, shoulders, arms and upper back. During severe injuries those may experience neck tongue syndrome (NTS), whereby a significant trauma has disturbed the upper 3 cervical spine to the point of possible rupture to the ligaments and dislocation or instability of the vertebrae. Those with NTS will report of numbness and tingling sensation to one half of their tongue, pain in the neck and head region.2
What are the risk factors of developing headaches following trauma to the head and/or neck?
According to the International Headache Society, the following may contribute to the likelihood of developing headaches following trauma to the head and/or neck (i.e. from a whiplash injury).
- Previous history of headache
- Less severe injury to the head and/or neck
- Being female
- Presence of comorbid psychiatric disorders
There are 2 types of Whiplash Associated Headaches
- Acute headaches
- Headaches of less than 3 months’ duration following a whiplash injury3
- Persistent headaches
- Headaches of more than 3 months’ duration caused by whiplash3
Why do Whiplash (Motor Vehicle Accident) injuries cause Headaches?
Whiplash injuries in Brisbane can cause significant headaches and migraines. Due to the mechanism of a whiplash injury, the cervical spine is typically affected which results in a SENSITISED BRAINSTEM.
The brainstem, specifically the Trigemino-Cervical nucleus, receives signals from various areas of the head via the Trigeminal nerve, and the neck via the Cervical afferent nerves. Due to the injury, this often causes what is most easily explained as confusion in the Trigemino-Cervical nucleus, which is interpreted as danger to various areas of the head, and therefore causes pain in the head (usually accompanied by neck pain) in the form or headache or migraine. Most often, trauma to the neck such as whiplash injuries can induce many different forms of headaches and migraines such as:
- Chronic Daily Headache
- Tension Type Headache
- Migraine Headache
- Hormonal Headache
- Menstrual Migraine
- Cluster Headache
- Cervicogenic Headache
- Sinus Headache
- Vertigo Cervical Headache
In fact, 50% of patients who see us report of some form of neck injury in the past, to precipitate their headaches and migraines.
I’ve already tried everything. What else can be done to help Whiplash Associated Headaches?
You may have tried many forms of treatment in the past such as physiotherapy, neck strength and conditioning exercises, massage, chiropractors, acupuncture or even surgery. We commonly see patients at our clinic who have tried all forms of treatment in the past, with usually only short-term relief. At the Brisbane Headache and Migraine Clinic™, we have dealt with numerous sufferers with whiplash associated headache presentations and use world-class techniques to assess and treat the neck. A thorough examination of the upper cervical spine is initiated to determine the severity of your SENSITISED BRAINSTEM, as well as the particular areas of the neck that are contributing to the presentation of pain in the first place.
A strong emphasis is place on determining the integrity of the ligaments of the neck before any further testing or treatment commences, to ensure both the assessment and the treatment are 100% safe. The Alar and Transverse Ligaments, Tectorial Membrane and Odontoid process are thoroughly examined to assess whether there has been a fracture or ligamentous rupture to these structures.
Once treatment commences we expect a significant improvement to occur rapidly in 90% of our patients with Whiplash Associated Headaches, within the first 5 treatment consultations. We’re not in the business of giving false hope. If we don’t think our treatment can help you, we will let you know after the initial consultation. Our treatment is effective in alleviating or dramatically reducing Whiplash Associated Headaches in 85-90% of sufferers with long-term results.
Imagine living a life free from headaches and migraines and saying goodbye to medications!
To gain your recovery today contact us on 1800 HEADACHE (toll free) 1800 43 23 22
- Spitzer WO, Skovron ML, Salmi LR, et al. Scientific monograph of the Quebec Task Force on Whiplash-Associated Disorders. Redefining whiplash and its management. Spine 1995;20(8S):1S-73S. PubMed Citation
- Orrell RW, Marsden CD. The neck-tongue syndrome. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1994;57:348-352.
- Headache attributed to trauma or injury to the head and/or neck – ICHD-3 The International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition. (2019). Retrieved from https://ichd-3.org/5-headache-attributed-to-trauma-or-injury-to-the-head-andor-neck/