Whiplash Headache Treatment
What are Whiplash-Associated Headaches?
Whiplash Injuries most commonly occur following Motor Vehicle Accidents (MVA), where the driver experiences impact from the front, rear or side of the vehicle. They can also occur in diving, or other high velocity sporting activities. Rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head causes a transfer of energy into the neck, resulting in damage or dysfunction to the muscles, ligaments, discs or joints in the neck.
Depending on the extent or type of Whiplash Injury, they can cause mild to severe headaches or migraines. These pains can be focal to one side of the head, or even be experienced on both sides of the head, depending on the specific presentation. Pain can also be experienced down the spine, shoulders and arms. In more severe whiplash injuries, damage to ligaments in the upper cervical spine can lead to Neck Tongue Syndrome (NTS), these patients will report numbness and/or tingling to one half of the tongue, in conjunction to pain in the neck or head .
What are the risk factors of developing headaches following trauma to the head and/or neck?
The International Headache Society guidelines suggest that the following factors may increase the risk of developing headaches from a whiplash injury ;
- Previous Headaches
- Low severity of injury to the head and/or neck
- Being female
- The co-presence of psychiatric disorders
There are 2 types of Whiplash Associated Headaches
- Acute headaches
- Headaches of less than 3 months’ duration following a whiplash injury 
- Persistent headaches
- Headaches of more than 3 months’ duration caused by whiplash 
Why do Whiplash (Motor Vehicle Accident) injuries cause Headaches?
Whiplash is a regular cause of headache and migraine in the Gold Coast area. The acceleration and deceleration affect of whiplash injuries on the cervical spine results in dysfunction of structures in the upper neck. Modern research suggests that this dysfunction results in a sensitised brainstem, also located within the upper cervical spine [3, 4].
The brainstem, or more specifically the Trigemino-cervical nucleus (TCN), houses nerves that arrive from both the head and face, as well as structures in the upper cervical spine. The information coming from the dysfunctional, or injured, structures in the upper neck is easily confused by the TCN as dangerous, pain is then referred to the head or face. The increased sensitivity of the brainstem in these situations, results in the wide range of headaches and migraines that can occur following a whiplash injury.
These are the most common:
- Chronic Daily Headache
- Tension- Type Headache
- Migraine Headache
- Hormonal Headache
- Menstrual Migraine
- Cluster headaches
- Cervicogenic Headache
- Sinus Headache
- Vertigo-Cervical Headache
In fact, most headache and migraine patients do report some form of neck injury in the past that can be related to their headache symptoms.
I’ve already tried everything. What else can be done to help Whiplash Associated Headaches?
Many sufferers of Whiplash Associated Headache in the Gold Coast area have tried many different types of treatment, with mixed results. Commonly, sufferers have tried; physiotherapy, osteopathy, acupuncture, medications or even neurologists and surgery. At The Headache and Migraine Clinic we use the most recent research and techniques to assess whether the upper cervical spine and the severity of your Sensitised brainstem, in order to see if they are in fact the cause of your headaches. We also specifically assess the important ligaments in your upper neck, to ensure that treatment and assessment is 100% safe to complete. The alar ligament, the transverse ligament, tectorial membrane and the odontoid process can all be damaged in a whiplash injury, and must be assessed by a health professional to ensure the safety of any treatment.
If we can determine that your cervical spine and a sensitised brainstem are the cause of your headaches and migraines, and it is deemed safe to do so, then treatment can start right away. We expect to see rapid results within the first five sessions, as we do with 85-90% of our patients’. At The Headache and Migraine Institute, we are not in the business of giving false hope, if it appears that your cervical spine and sensitised brainstem are not the cause of your headaches, unfortunately we will not be able to help, but we will let you know in session one and immediately refer you to someone we believe can.
Imagine living a life free from headaches and migraines and saying goodbye to medications!
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)
Common Headaches Treated
What are Cluster Headaches?
Cluster Headaches are a rare type of headaches that affect around 0.1% of the population, according to the International Headache Society. While they are rare, it does affect males 3-4 times more frequently than females .
Despite being uncommon, Cluster Headaches are regarded as being the most severe and debilitating type of headache. Research has shown Cluster Headaches frequently described as having the highest pain levels , out of all 300 different types of headache and migraine. Cluster Headache attacks occur in cycles, and will often wake sufferers during the night, or at regular times during the day. Attacks generally last between 15-180 minutes, and can happen multiple times per day, or once every couple of days [1, 2]. People who suffer from Cluster Headaches generally experience periods of attacks, or “cluster periods” that can last weeks or months. These periods are then followed by periods of remission lasting weeks, months or even years. The pain is often severe, on one-side of the head, and generally around the eye and/or temple region. Cluster Headaches have adopted the nickname, ‘suicide headaches’ due to their severe and debilitating nature .
What are the signs and symptoms?
Cluster Headaches are often severe enough that a sufferer cannot keep still during an attack. They may pace back and forth, have to take a shower, or even resort to banging their head in an attempt to reduce the pan.
Symptoms commonly associated with Cluster Headaches include :
- Severe pain around one eye, that can radiate further around the face or neck
- Restlessness, shortness of breath and/or a sweaty face
- Watery/teary eyes or eye redness
- Swollen or droopy eyelids
- Runny or congested nose
- Pale or flushed skin
- Pain is unilateral, or affects only one side
What are the different types of Cluster Headache?
There are 2 types of cluster headache.
Episodic Cluster Headache
Cluster Headaches most commonly occur episodically. This is when sufferers experience bouts of “cluster periods” that can last for weeks or months, followed by an extended period in remission that can last up to years. They can occur seasonally or at set times each year. Episodic Cluster Headaches account for up to 80% of all Cluster Headaches [1, 2].
Chronic Cluster Headache
When Cluster Headaches occur without a prolonged period of remission, they are termed a Chronic Cluster headache. Sufferers often have “cluster periods” that will last over a year. While they may have days without attacks, the remissions will not last longer than a month.
What are the risk factors?
- Men are 5-6 times more likely to experience cluster headaches
- Sufferers are generally heavy smokers
- Higher alcohol consumption may be a factor
- Cluster Headaches most commonly affect people aged 20-50, but can occur at any age
- People with family members who are sufferers may be at a higher risk
What causes Cluster Headaches?
Historically, it was believed that cluster headaches, as well as migraines, were caused by the dilation of blood vessels in the head, causing pain. This was thought because medications, like triptans, are effective at relieving the pain if taking early enough in an attack. It was believed that triptans prevent this vessel dilation. However, recent research has shown that Cluster Headache and migraine sufferers do not experience blood vessel dilation at any different levels to people who do not suffer. So, how do these medications work?
Modern research has shown that Cluster Headaches and migraines arise from increased sensitivity in the central nervous system , more specifically, a sensitised brainstem which is located in the upper cervical spine (the upper neck). Faults in the upper neck can lead to this sensitised brainstem, which then can refer severe pain and associated symptoms into the head and face . Triptan medication has also more recently been shown to de-sensitise the brainstem , as well as its original purpose of constricting blood vessels in the head. This would explain why they work, as well as identifying a sensitised brainstem and the cervical spine as a cause of cluster headaches.
I've tried it all, is there anything that can help me?
While Cluster Headaches are very uncommon, they are still experienced in the Gold Coast region. The severity of symptoms causes sufferers to try a range of therapies in an attempt to resolve them, with mixed results. Often, they have tried; medications, injection therapy, or even surgical interventions such as, nerve blocks or blood vessel cauterisation.
At The Headache and Migraine Clinic, we aim to use the most modern research to find the root cause of your cluster headaches. If we can determine that a sensitised brainstem is the cause of your headaches, then we can use world-leading treatment techniques to address the faults in your neck and de-sensitise the brainstem. We have seen plenty of Cluster Headache sufferers at our clinics, and have an 85-90% success rate with our treatment technique. The best part is that it is safe, non-invasive and medication-free.