Feeling severe pain after a car accident, experiencing chronic pain?

Victims of low-speed automobile accidents may suffer damage to soft tissues as a result of their automobile accident,  but often show no obvious signs of physical trauma.  This is why it’s vitally important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney immediately after an automobile accident.

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than six months. The actual pain can be mild or unbearable, occasional or incessant, and can range from slightly problematic to completely incapacitating. Chronic widespread pain is pain above or below the waist or on both sides of the body that is present for three months or longer, according to ACR. “We believe there are persons — defined by prior physical and psychological health — who in the event of a traumatic trigger are vulnerable to developing chronic widespread pain,” the study author explained.

Misfiring Nerves

Motor vehicle accidents can produce a disease in which the nervous and immune systems malfunction as they respond to tissue damage, either major or minor. The nerves are thought to misfire, sending continuous pain signals to the brain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies this disease, complex regional pain syndrome/reflex sympathetic dystrophy (CRPS/RSD), as a rare disorder. However, the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA) estimates that up to 200,000 people experience this condition in the United States in any given year.

CRPS/RSD may result from motor vehicle accidents, falls, and other types of significant trauma. It is most likely to affect individuals between the ages of 40 and 60, although children and the elderly may develop it as well. Like fibromyalgia, RSD/CRPS is more likely to occur in women.

The chronic condition commonly occurs after some type of musculoskeletal or nerve injury. The level of pain associated with CRPS/RSD is one of the most severe on the McGill pain index.

Automobile Accidents and Cervicogenic (CEH) Headaches

Cervicogenic (CEH) headaches are defined as headaches caused by pain referred from the neck. Although Cervicogenic headaches sometimes mimic symptoms of tension, migraine or cluster headaches,  their origins, causative factors, and treatment are distinctly different.

‘Cervicogenic’ is a term that refers to the cervical area of the spine, which is located near the base of the skull.  Many patients with Cervicogenic headaches have suffered damage, compression or irritation to the first three spinal nerves (C-1, C-2, and C-3). These nerves make up the upper (cervical) portion of the neck, and allow the neck to move and experience the sensation.  If the spinal nerves in the cervical area are damaged,  it can lead to headaches or ‘referred pain’ which comes from the neck and may cause frequent headaches when the patient moves the neck and subsequently ‘triggers’ Cervicogenic headaches.

What are the Symptoms of Cervicogenic Headaches?

  • Most patients with Cervicogenic headaches have unilateral (one-sided) head pain.
  • Many patients describe Cervicogenic headaches as a steady pain near the base of the skull which sometimes extends to the back and shoulder blades.
  • Some patients also experience pain in the front of their heads (near their eyebrows or forehead).
  • Unlike other types of headaches (e.g. cluster, migraine, tension),  Cervicogenic headaches are not usually described as throbbing and are usually brought on by sudden neck movements (movements can be as minor as sneezing or bending).
  • Exhibit sensitivity to light, motion, and sound (and may experience nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, etc.) but these symptoms are usually less intense and frequent than those experienced during a migraine and other types of headaches.
  • Experience pain in the same arm and/or shoulder where their headache occurs (but the pain sometimes occurs in both arms/shoulders).
  • Exhibit a limited range of motion in the neck.
  • Have their headaches triggered as a result of specific neck movements or pressures on their neck or spine (which can usually be pinpointed by a doctor’s physical examination of the neck and cervical area)?
  • Develop an extremely stiff neck during their headache (and may experience near immobility due to the neck or head pain).

What’s the Diagnosis

It can be difficult to diagnose Cervicogenic headaches because their symptoms often mimic other headaches, and the exact cause of a headache is not always immediately clear to the patient or the medical provider.  Diagnostic tests are often inconclusive (x-rays and scans such as MRIs and CAT scans do not show damage to soft tissues,  which often contribute to Cervicogenic headaches).

In order to properly diagnose and treat a Cervicogenic headache,  your medical provider must first determine that your pain is definitely referred from your neck.  This can be done with a physical examination (which will determine exactly where your pain is coming from,  and what neck movements trigger your headaches). Other tests may include a diagnostic anesthetic blockade, combined with additional diagnostic tests.

Cervicogenic Headaches After Car Accident

CEH Six Years After Whiplash Injury – According to a large study of Cervicogenic headaches after a car accident and from whiplash injuries  (Department of Neurosurgery, Ullevaal University Hospital, Oslo, Norway), current imaging techniques and electrophysiological tests are not usually able to show the neck damage that causes Cervicogenic headaches.  This is a significant finding for victims of automobile accidents, especially victims of low-speed automobile accidents.

Victims of low-speed automobile accidents may not suffer “obvious” trauma as a result of an automobile accident.  For example, they may not lose consciousness as a result of their crash or suffer any broken bones.  They may not even suffer visible bumps or bruises.  But that does not necessarily mean they were not injured in the crash


Injuries can also contribute to development of a condition called fibromyalgia, in which people complain of aching all over. Symptoms of fibromyalgia usually develop within a few weeks of some type of physical trauma, meaning an injury such as a car accident, fall, sprain, strain, surgery, or even an insect bite. The limbs of the body are commonly affected, and the pain might be centralized on a finger or toe, or may spread throughout an entire arm or leg.

The pain and stiffness are usually worse in the morning and may be more intense in muscle groups that are used repetitively. Typical tender areas include the neck, shoulders, sternum, lower back, hip, shin, elbows, and knees. Doctors do not know what causes fibromyalgia but theorize that it most likely involves a series of factors, including:

  • Genetics, since fibromyalgia tends to run in families.
  • Infections, as some illnesses appear to trigger or aggravate fibromyalgia.
  • Physical or emotional trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been linked to fibromyalgia.

Chronic pain often causes lack of sleep and stress, which can lead to depression, another common condition among car accident victims who have suffered injury, loss of wages or job, and potentially a long-term decrease in the overall quality of their lives.

These long-term, chronic problems can arise even if the tissue damage from an injury was relatively minor. Because of this, it is important to seek medical attention immediately after an auto accident, even if you don’t feel that you’ve sustained significant injuries.

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