Fortunately, most motor vehicle accidents are not fatal, but even minor accidents can cause long-term pain. Often these injuries are quite different from what one might expect. Some car accident injuries may resolve within a matter of days without any medical treatment at all; however, more severe injuries might become permanent and can result in some level of physical disability.
Head injuries can range from relatively minor to quite severe. A vehicle’s sudden stop or change in direction can cause the head of the occupant to experience sudden and unnatural movements. This sudden movement can cause muscle strains in the neck and back (soft-tissue injury).
However, the head itself can also be injured. The impact of an accident can cause damage to the tissue inside the skull because of the motion of the head. The injury can range from a concussion to brain damage.
Neck and Back Injuries
Neck and back injuries are common in motor vehicle accidents. Generally, this type of injury is called “whiplash.” The injuries range from a mild strain to something much more serious. If the force of a collision is great enough, it can cause the tissue between the vertebrae of the spine to balloon out or rupture (“herniate”), resulting in a herniated disc pressing on and inflaming nerves along the spine. This can cause severe pain, loss of feeling, and even loss of muscle control. These symptoms might occur right away, but also can develop in the weeks and months following an auto accident.
Shoulder pain is common after an accident, because of the way the shoulder belt restraint wraps over one shoulder. Much of the force from an auto accident can be focused on that one shoulder, if the occupant is thrown forward from the impact of the collision. The impact force can cause the body to twist resulting in many different injuries, such as deep bruising, shoulder strains, and even tearing of the shoulder ligaments. Shoulder injuries often worsen over time and can cause chronic pain.
Chest injuries that result from a motor vehicle accident are typically in the form of contusions or bruises (discoloration of the skin). However, a chest injury can be more severe and result in broken ribs or internal organ injuries. Drivers are most likely to experience chest injuries because of their position behind the steering wheel; however, a vehicle occupant can also be thrown forward in a collision. Even though the person may not impact the steering wheel or dashboard, the chest area can experience a high level of force against the shoulder harness or seatbelt, which can cause severe bruising.
Often during a motor vehicle collision, front seat occupants are thrown forward and strike their knee on the dashboard. This resulting knee pain can be the result of damage to the cartilage of the knee, a shattered patella (knee cap), or damage to the cartilage (torn meniscus). Sometimes, similar injuries can occur when a driver slams on the brakes to avoid a collision, and the knees of occupants are forcefully compressed. These injuries can be quite painful, though the severity of the injury is not always readily apparent, because the pain may take time to develop.
Arm and Leg Injuries
If a vehicle experiences a side impact, the occupant’s arms and legs can be forced against the door or other interior parts of the vehicle. In a car, passenger legs typically have very little room for movement. Depending on the nature of the collision, injuries to arms and legs can range from simple bruises or scrapes to sprains, and even broken bones.
Soft Tissue Injuries
The most common type of injury resulting from a motor vehicle accident is an injury to soft tissue. A soft tissue injury is damage to connective tissue (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) in the body.
Soft tissue injuries can take many forms, including whiplash. The forces placed on the body in a vehicle accident often result in soft tissue injuries in the neck, and can cause muscle sprains in other areas of the body. These can often cause mid-back and low-back pain. Sometimes, the accident can cause more severe back injuries because of the impact force against the spine.
The extent of an injury can be very serious, although it is not always obvious immediately following a motor vehicle accident. Most injuries are likely to cause pain that gets worse over time, if not recognized or appropriately treated immediately after an accident. Depending on the nature of the injury, it can take days, weeks, or even months for pain symptoms to appear. Therefore, it’s advisable for accident victims to seek medical treatment for even the slightest discomfort or injury following a collision.
What are Common Pains Following a Motor Vehicle Accident?
Some of the pains that occur following a motor vehicle accident are readily apparent. However, some pains may not appear until several days or even weeks after the accident. These pains include:
Headaches. It is common for headaches to develop several days after a vehicle accident, but it can be more than a common pain. Sometimes a headache can signal a potentially serious problem, such as a blood clot in the brain, or injury to the neck or head. It can also be a sign of a more serious concussion.
Neck or shoulder pain or stiffness. Whiplash is a classic delayed symptom injury associated with accidents. Most cases of whiplash occur as the result of rear-end vehicle collisions at low speeds. To accurately diagnose whiplash injuries, x-rays, CT scans or MRIs may be necessary after serious accidents.
Back pain. Pain that occurs in the back after an accident could be the result of an injury to muscles, ligaments or nerves in the back. However, back pain could be from damage to the vertebrae and discs of the spine. Low back pain is found in a majority of motor vehicle accidents. Back strains are common, but sometimes the force of a collision can cause the tissue between the vertebrae of the spine to balloon out (slipped disc) or rupture (herniated disc). In some cases, it may take weeks or months for the symptoms to develop following an auto accident. These injuries can cause long-term disability.
Abdominal pain or swelling. Large areas of deep purple bruising, dizziness, and fainting can be a result of internal bleeding which can remain undiscovered for several days.
Numbness. A loss of feeling in the arms and hands is often the result of a whiplash injury resulting from damage to the neck or spinal column.
A common symptom, although not necessarily a pain, common to motor vehicle accidents is a change in personality or physical function. This could be a sign of a traumatic brain injury resulting from a concussion. Other symptoms to watch for include impaired thinking or memory, movement, problems with vision or hearing, and personality changes or depression. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of traumatic brain injuries.
How to Help Avoid Motor Vehicle Injuries
There are several things you can do to help avoid vehicle crash injuries:
Seatbelts. The driver and all passengers should wear proper restrains. The state of Florida requires that all front seat occupants, and passengers under the age of 18, must wear a seat belt.
Child Restraints. The driver is responsible for buckling children passengers. Florida law requires children 3 and younger to be secured in federally-approved child-resistant seats. Children 4 and 5 years old must be secured by either a federally approved child restraint seat or safety belt.
Sit Upright. Seat belts work best when the occupant is seated upright. Leaning forward places the driver and front seat passenger closer to the steering wheel and dashboard. Leaning back at an extreme angle makes it easier to slip out of the seat belt in an impact accident.
Drive the Speed Limit. Modern automobiles are designed to absorb and dissipate the impact of low-speed collisions. At excessive speeds, the energy of an impact is transferred to passengers in the form of G-forces that increase the risk of injury. 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 some obvious examples of distracted driving. However, using a navigation system and adjusting the radio can be just as distracting.
Remove Loose Items from the Car Interior. Just as an unrestrained body will move about the passenger cabin in an accident, so too will lose items. Unsecured objects in the passenger cabin like books and groceries can strike the occupants in the event of a collision. Heavier objects have a greater chance of causing injury. Secure loose items in the trunk.
Drive a Safe Car. Driving a safe vehicle can go a long way toward helping prevent injury. Newer model cars have many advanced safety features. When buying a vehicle, consider the safety features. Consumer Reports has many useful tips about advanced car safety systems.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and specializes in treating common pains following a motor vehicle accident. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle, while minimizing the need for opiates.