On average, two out of every ten people in Florida will be in a vehicle accident each year, and an accident will happen to drivers about once every 18 years. For someone getting a driver’s license at the age of 16, the odds are they will experience an accident by the age of 34. And statistically, throughout a typical lifetime of driving, the average driver will have at least three accidents.
Symptoms of a serious injury are not always immediately apparent. It can take several days or even weeks before they become noticeable. However, seeking medical attention within the first 24 to 72 hours following a car accident is essential, even if it seems minor and you are not currently experiencing pain. By seeking immediate medical care, you improve your chances of a successful recovery.
Additionally, seeking immediate medical care following an auto accident is essential because anyone injured in an auto accident is eligible for personal injury protection (PIP) under Florida law to help cover the costs of injury-related expenses. However, the accident victim must be treated within 14 days to be eligible for these benefits. If not treated within those two weeks, PIP benefits are unavailable to the victim, even if symptoms appear later.
Some Common Car Accident Injuries
Head, neck, leg, knee, and foot injuries are the most common car accident injuries. Other, less obvious injuries, like whiplash and back injuries, can develop days after the accident. According to Forbes, some of the most common injuries that result from a car accident include:
Head injuries. A blow to the head during the impact of a car accident can cause a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions are often the result of the head striking the steering wheel or any hard surface, but they can also happen without the head hitting any surface. Symptoms of a concussion include loss of consciousness immediately following impact, headache, impaired memory, dizziness, or vision problems.
Whiplash. Perhaps the most common car accident injury is whiplash. Most accidents occur at speeds of 14 mph or less, which may not cause vehicle damage. Whiplash can occur at speeds as low as 3 mph. When a vehicle stops suddenly, momentum causes the body to continue moving forward, which can strain the neck muscles. The resultant jerking motion can cause injury to the vertebrae, ligaments, spinal discs, or the spinal cord. If left untreated, whiplash can develop into chronic neck pain.
Neck injury. An injury to the neck can result from whiplash or more serious injuries like cervical dislocation and disc injury. Even less severe neck and back injuries can cause chronic pain that significantly reduces the quality of life.
Spinal cord injury. The impact of an accident can cause displaced bone fragments and disc material to tear into spinal cord tissue. This tearing can destroy a part of the nerve cells that carry signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Damage to the spinal cord can cause significant nerve damage and possibly loss of function or feeling.
Back injuries. There are two common locations for a back injury resulting from a car accident.
Lower back pain is the most common back pain. It usually involves the soft tissues and muscles that wrap around the back of the waist. These muscles can experience bruising and trauma during a car accident. The lumbar spine can sustain fractures, and any abnormal movement of the vertebrae can result in lower back pain. Anyone experiencing intermittent back pain prior to an accident may experience worse pain following a vehicle accident.
Mid and upper back pain can occur when the injury is where the ribs connect to the spine. The thoracic region of the spine is a very stiff area of the body, protecting vital internal organs.
Herniated disc. If a spinal disc herniates, it can cause numbness or tingling sensations, muscle weakness, and pain in the arms or legs, resulting from leaking disc material, possibly pinching or irritating a nerve.
Sciatica. Severe pain in a leg along the sciatic nerve that runs from the buttocks, down the leg, and to the toes can result from compression of a spinal nerve in the lower back.
Sprains and strains. When a muscle or ligament is overstretched, it can tear the tissue. A strain involves an injury to a muscle or a band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone. A sprain injures the bands of tissue that connect two bones. A sprain or a strain can lead to a back spasm that immobilizes the muscles in the injured area to protect the ligaments and joints from further damage. The spasm can cause severe lower back pain and difficulty moving.
Fractured vertebrae. An injury from a car accident can cause a compression fracture (bone collapses upon itself), burst fractures (pieces pierce nearby tissue), or fracture-dislocations (broken bone and torn ligaments allowing bones to slide away from each other).
Leg and knee injuries. An injury to the legs and knees can result in wounds that range from contusions (bruises) to multiple fractures. The knees are particularly prone to tearing and dislocation if they are abruptly twisted or turned.
How Are Car Accident Injuries Treated?
Many effective treatments are available to help ease the pain of car accident injuries. The exact treatment will depend on the type of injury and its severity. Only a thorough medical examination can determine the most effective treatment.
Treatments may include:
Acupuncture is the Chinese practice of inserting very thin needles into the body to relieve pain. Practitioners say acupuncture may help the body release natural painkillers (endorphins) and stimulate nerve and muscle tissue.
Chiropractic care can help the body regain optimal spinal alignment, which can be lost following a traumatic car accident. A method of spinal manipulation (adjustment) involves using controlled force to align vertebrae, stopping them from placing painful pressure on spinal nerves.
Injections and Medial Branch Blocks. Several different types of injections are available to help alleviate persistent pain from injuries suffered in a car accident. Medications injected into nerves causing pain are usually more effective than oral medications because the injection targets the source of the pain.
Massage therapy can help relieve muscle pain by increasing blood circulation to the injured tissue and relaxing damaged muscles that cause pain.
Medication. Anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and painkillers can help alleviate the pain and swelling.
Neck or Back Brace. A neck or back brace can often be a temporary pain management option. However, the goal is to restore normal movement so the muscles can heal correctly. Moving and strengthening the weakened muscles as soon as possible is important. The longer a brace is worn, the less effective it becomes.
Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Neurotomy, also called Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), is a non-surgical, minimally invasive procedure that can help reduce pain by disrupting the nerves that carry pain signals. This procedure uses heat to damage a small area of nerve tissue with an electrical current from a radio wave. This procedure helps reduce the pain signals that form in the area of the injury.
Physical therapy. The type of treatment depends on the patient and the type of injury. Physical therapy can improve neck pain, whiplash, back pain, and most musculoskeletal discomforts. The therapist will develop a custom series of exercises to help regain muscle strength and flexibility.
Spinal Decompression Therapy is a non-surgical process that involves stretching the spine using a traction table or other motorized device to help relieve back and leg pain.
Depending on the injuries and after a thorough physical examination, specific treatments performed at home can also help recover from a car accident. These activities include:
Over-the-counter medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), can help with general pain and swelling. Always check with a medical professional before starting a course of pain relievers, especially if taking other medications.
Ice. Applying ice to the affected area can often help reduce swelling and pain in a muscle, ligament, or tendon.
Resume Normal Activities. After a car accident, the natural inclination is to take it easy and remain inactive. Most of the time, though, it is more beneficial to stay active. Avoiding activity may lead to the deconditioning of the musculoskeletal system and further increase pain levels. Furthermore, it is essential to maintain proper posture and avoid slouching to help with recovery.
Home Exercise and Stretching. After a proper medical examination and evaluation, simple home exercises and stretches can improve the biomechanics of injured muscles and joints and decrease muscle tension.
Is It Possible to Prevent Car Accident Injuries?
Driving on public roads will always be risky if for no other reason than mistakes by other drivers. Therefore, the best way to avoid an accident is to drive defensively and be aware of your surroundings.
The State of Florida website has defensive driving tips that every driver can do to help prevent car accidents and the resulting injuries. Some of the things you can do to help avoid injuries from a car accident include:
Wear a Seatbelt. The single most effective way to prevent a car accident injury is to wear a seat belt. Seat belts help keep the wearer from being tossed about the interior of the passenger cabin and avoid striking the steering wheel or the dashboard or being thrown into an adjacent seat. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that using seat belts reduces the risk of death and serious injury by about half for older children and adults.
Child Safety Seats. Always transport children two years old and younger in rear-facing child safety seats in the vehicle’s back seat. Children less than 12 years of age should always ride in the back seat as well. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows the use of car seats reduces the risk of injury in a crash by over 70% for children compared to seat belt use alone.
Sit Upright. Seat belts work best when the occupant is seated upright. If the driver or passenger is leaning forward, they are closer to the steering wheel or dashboard. Leaning back at an extreme angle makes slipping out of the seat belt possible during an accident.
Drive the Speed Limit. Because of the kinetic energy involved in a collision, there is generally less risk of injury at slower speeds. Modern automobiles are designed to absorb and dissipate the impact of a crash. At excessive speeds, the energies are greater than the vehicle can absorb, so these are transferred to the passengers in the form of G-forces that increase the risk of injury or death. So, you can reduce the risk of injury by driving the speed limit.
Avoid Distracted Driving. Anything that takes attention away from driving can be a distraction. Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, and eating while driving are obvious examples of distracted driving. However, using a navigation system and adjusting the radio can be just as distracting. Anything that takes the driver’s eyes off the road, even for a second, can result in an accident. Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines three types of distraction (visual, manual, and cognitive). Sending or reading a text message takes about 5 seconds. A vehicle going 55 MPH will travel 403 feet (more than the length of a football field) in 5 seconds.
Remove Loose Items from the Car Interior. Just as an unrestrained body will move about the passenger cabin in an accident, so will loose items. Any unsecured object in the passenger cabin can become a projectile and strike an occupant during a crash. Heavier objects have a greater chance of injuring passengers in a collision. Place loose items in the trunk, not the passenger cabin, if you need to carry them in the vehicle.
Drive a Safe Car. When buying a vehicle, consider safety. Driving a safe vehicle can help increase your chances of surviving a car accident. Newer model cars have many advanced safety features. Consumer Reports has many helpful tips for car buyers.
Serious injuries following a car accident are not always apparent, and their symptoms may not be immediately noticeable. It is important to seek medical attention even if the accident seems minor. Seeking immediate medical care improves your chances of a successful recovery.