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Anguished woman holding her hand to her head

As personal injury lawyers, we know that car accidents can cause minor to severe injuries, from bruising and broken bones to traumatic brain injuries (TBI). In the worst cases, a car accident can be fatal. Many injuries can be easily seen or diagnosed right after a crash, but there are others that aren’t obvious; symptoms of an injury could take days or weeks to present, such as post-traumatic headaches and migraines. And yet, this type of injury can cause serious, short- and long-term struggles for the victim that significantly affect their life.

Post-traumatic headaches and migraines caused by a car accident are often due to whiplash or a traumatic brain injury – even if it’s minor. While common, they’re frequently overlooked, whether due to a lack of understanding about the cause of headaches, their difficulty to treat, and/or skepticism around how disruptive and debilitating they can be. But the fact is, many car accident victims suffer from post-traumatic headaches for weeks, months, and even years, impacting their jobs, relationships, and overall health.

Some who experience post-traumatic headaches suffer from chronic pain and also experience dizziness, memory problems, and other cognitive impairments. However, even if other symptoms don’t accompany chronic headaches, car accident victims can still seek compensation for their pain. They have a right to hold negligent drivers responsible for this type of injury, even if there aren’t any outward signs of harm.

Auto accident lawsuits involving post-traumatic headaches are complicated and require an attorney with experience handling these cases. At Curcio Law, we’ve seen firsthand how headaches and migraines caused by accidents in Virginia can have widespread effects on the victim.

What are Post-Traumatic Headaches?

Medically speaking, a post-traumatic headache (PTHA) develops within seven days of the accident or seven days after a patient regains consciousness. On top of pain, many other symptoms of a PTHA can occur, including light sensitivity, difficulty concentrating, memory struggles, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and mood disorders. Victims who had headaches and migraines before an accident often suffer more frequent and worsened episodes after a crash.

When a car accident happens, the head can strike something, like a dashboard, window, or steering wheel, or the head can make a swift forward and backward motion upon impact. Such sudden acceleration/deceleration of the head causes the brain to slam into the skull, causing microscopic damage to brain tissue.  Even mild concussions and whiplash can cause post-traumatic headaches, and whiplash is the most common injury sustained when someone is rear-ended in a car accident. In fact, research has shown whiplash can occur when a car is traveling just five mph or less when it crashes.

Simply put, the severity of whiplash or traumatic brain injury doesn’t matter. PTHAs and migraines can be caused by low-speed car accidents that seem minor but have serious health implications.

Since car crashes can lead to invisible injuries, seeking medical attention after an accident is crucial. And if you begin experiencing new or worsened headaches days or weeks later, see your doctor. Document all injuries, even if it’s “just a headache.” This is important evidence and information when building a case or making an insurance claim.

Post-Traumatic Headache Research

Historically, there are few studies about post-traumatic headaches following a car accident. That said, the existing research makes a clear connection to TBIs and whiplash, both of which are common in car accidents.

Headaches are one of the most common types of chronic pain among patients with a traumatic brain injury. One study showed that 71% of patients with a TBI reported headaches in the year following their injury, and 41% experienced headaches at three, six, and 12 months. In this study, they concluded that the severity of the TBI did not impact whether or not participants developed post-traumatic headaches.

Another study on the management of post-traumatic headaches highlighted the prevalence among whiplash victims. For patients who experienced symptoms for more than six months, headache was the main complaint.

The impact of PTHAs and migraines caused by car accidents can be extensive, affecting mental health, the ability to work, and quality of life. Unfortunately, finding the right medications and treatments to manage the injury is often difficult. With the risk of prolonged and chronic headaches after a car crash, victims should be properly compensated through a car accident lawsuit or insurance claim.

Post-Traumatic Headache and Migraine Lawsuits

It’s essential for car accident lawyers to advocate for clients who suffer from post-traumatic headaches, and they must be equipped with specific knowledge about the condition. These cases are difficult and are often met with skepticism by claims adjusters and jurors. This is so because they can result from low-speed impacts where there is little visible damage to the vehicles, objective tests such as skull x-rays and brain CT scans are negative, the diagnosis relies primarily on subjective complaints, and migraines aren’t understood like other car accident injuries. Clients suffering such injuries have the additional frustration that there is no cure for migraines, and medications greatly vary depending on the person; what works for one patient often doesn’t work for another.

There’s an extra challenge when post-traumatic headaches caused by a car accident don’t result in symptoms beyond pain or if a concussion is not initially diagnosed. Why? When there aren’t cognitive symptoms or if the initial treater fails to properly diagnose a concussion, proving the PTHA and migraines are related to the crash and their impact on the victim’s daily life, possible future implications, and the extent of their pain to an insurance company or with a car accident lawsuit can be difficult. The involvement of expert witnesses, like neurologists and head trauma specialists, and collecting proper documentation are important to demonstrate the value of a claim.

Recently, I represented a car accident victim who began experiencing post-traumatic headaches that became chronic migraines. She was rear-ended, and while damage to her vehicle was minimal, she was diagnosed with a concussion, and her headaches began soon after. Our client underwent extensive treatments with neurologists specializing in headaches and migraines at local leading hospitals, including Botox injections and nerve blocks. The impact of her invisible injury was extensive, resulting in chronic pain that disrupted her life in several ways.

However, since the damage to her car was minimal, the brain CT was negative, and the diagnosis relied primarily on her complaints, building her case and demonstrating the impact of her injury in arbitration was challenging. Meeting this challenge required a legal strategy built around the testimony of her treating headache specialist, family and friends that knew her before and after the crash, and highlighting key entries in her extensive medical records. 

Why You Need a Virginia Car Accident Lawyer

Post-traumatic headaches are a common injury among victims of minor to severe car accidents in Virginia and nationwide. With nearly 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. each year and headaches being the most common complaint among patients, car accident victims are at risk of suffering from life-changing pain and other disruptive and exhausting symptoms.

Insurance claims for post-traumatic headaches after a car accident are often denied. While there’s little understanding of these injuries, they’re serious, and those suffering should have the legal support necessary to effectively prove their claim and allow them to focus on their recovery.

If you’ve been involved in a car accident and are experiencing new or worsened headaches or migraines, see your doctor, then contact the team at Curcio Law. We protect the rights of those hurt in Virginia car accidents and have the experience to fight for proper compensation for your injuries. Even if you’ve been told that it is difficult to be compensated for post-traumatic headaches, we can help. Contact us online or text or call 1-703-836-3366 for a free consultation.


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Curcio Law Auto Accident Attorneys