Headaches Caused by Cervical Injury: Not Your Ordinary Migraine

While there has been longstanding recognition of the painful and physically debilitating effects of whiplash-type injuries on shoulder, upper extremity and back function, far less attention has been given to discerning the role that cervical trauma has on causing headaches. Cervicogenic headaches—headaches with a cervical origin—are considered by many doctors to be difficult to diagnose and treat since the biological processes and mechanisms by which they develop and progress have not been well understood until very recently. As a result, headache symptoms of traffic accident victims are often erroneously attributed to migraines or tension, possibly resulting from the emotional stress of the accident.

Distinguishing between Cervicogenic and Other Types of Headache

In 2011, a number of prominent researchers published a scientific study through the National Institute of Health providing a definitive list of diagnostic criteria to help doctors distinguish headaches with a cervical origin from migraines and tension-type headaches. Results of this study found that headaches with a cervical origin were overwhelmingly characterized by co-existing impairments in the circulatory and muscular systems.Findings underscored the critical need for doctors to search for signs of painful upper cervical joint dysfunction associated with restrictions in range of motion when diagnosing headache origin in accident victims.

MRIs Not Wholly Sufficient

Radiologic studies have proven to be of only limited help in diagnosing cervicogenic headaches. A 2003 study published in the well-respected medical journal, Cephalalgia, found that nearly half of patients with headaches of a cervical origin studied had no visible signs of structural cervical injury, such as herniated or bulging discs or spinal stenosis. As such, physicians should not rely on MRIs as an adequate or primary method for detecting underlying causes for cervicogenic headaches. As beneficial as MRIs are for diagnosing many soft tissue problems, they do have their diagnostic limitations; namely, they cannot always tell if abnormal tissues are functioning normally.

Delayed Onset of Headaches is Normal

An important side note: whiplash-associated symptoms, including headache, do not always appear immediately after injury. For example, several studies have shown that neck muscles and soft tissue can become fibrotic with the formation of scar tissue following a whiplash injury.  When these muscles become thickened and scarred, they can exert pressure on networks of cervical/cranial nerves resulting in chronic headaches. Fibrotic changes in cervical structures and problems caused by the resulting compression do not typically show up for 7-37 days following the injury.

Talk to Your Doctor and to a Top Trial Lawyer

If you have been involved an accident caused by the negligence or purposeful actions of another and have since developed chronic headaches, you may wish to consider talking to your doctor about whether the headaches could be cervicogenic in nature. Knowing the source of your headaches can make a huge difference in how they are medically treated…and how they may be viewed and compensated in a personal injury case.

When pursuing an explanation, don’t let your headaches be summarily dismissed as migraines or tension-related, especially if you have sustained whiplash or another type of cervical injury. Our attorneys don’t settle for easy answers; you shouldn’t either! Our lawyers are known for uncovering the most accurate and up-to-date legal and medical information to help get you the treatment and justice you deserve.  That’s what sets us apart from other personal injury lawyers. For us, it’s all about determination and the willingness to do whatever research is necessary to get you the best results. Call one of our top trial lawyers today to get the answers you need: 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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