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Gregory Perenich
17 April 2022

​What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident

A car accident can prove incredibly physically traumatic, even if you do not suffer serious injuries. Many people assume that if they walk away from the accident scene with no apparent injuries, they will feel fine the next day or in the days following.

However, the force of the accident, particularly in a high-impact collision, can lead to several ongoing physical challenges.

At the Accident Scene

​What to Expect Physically After a Car AccidentAt the accident scene, you may feel fine.But even if you did suffer injuries in the accident, you may not notice symptoms immediately. Frequently, traumatic events like a car accident will cause adrenaline to flood your system. Adrenaline, the fight or flight hormone, may cause your heart rate to increase, your pupils to dilate, and your muscles to tense in preparation to respond to a potentially dangerous situation. You may feel shaky or disoriented, even if you did not sustain trauma to the head.

That surge of adrenaline at the accident scene can make it difficult to remember what you need to do or how to respond after an accident. You may forget to take care of everyday tasks or even struggle to articulate what you saw that led to the accident.

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Shock

Some people will go into shock due to the trauma associated with a car accident. Shock can occur because of blood loss or serious injuries, but it may also result from extreme trauma related to a serious accident event. Shock can cause everything from a rapid pulse and increased breath rate to cool, clammy skin, weakness, and increased risk of fainting. As they go into shock, some patients will show changes in mental state, including increased anxiousness or trouble communicating.

Shock decreases blood through the body and to the organs. In some cases, it can cause organ damage or death. Patients in shock should receive immediate medical attention.

After the Accident

If you suffered an injury in the accident, the rush of adrenaline might conceal the initial pain response. Sometimes, you may not notice signs of injury until several hours after the accident, and it may even take until the next day before you start noticing symptoms of pain. Adrenaline serves as a protective agent that raises your pain tolerance, but it may also cause you to miss the presence of serious injuries.

Soreness

You may feel sore after any accident involving significant force. Sometimes, relatively minor soreness may resolve within a few days of the accident. Other times, however, soreness may linger for several weeks after the accident. Ongoing soreness, or pain that increases rather than resolving, could indicate a severe injury.

Whiplash

Whiplash can result from the abrupt back-and-forth movement of the head during a traumatic accident. Generally, whiplash symptoms include neck stiffness and soreness. However, patients may also suffer from burning and prickling in the arms, back, or shoulders, or may have a headache and suffer from dizziness.

Patients with severe whiplash may require physical therapy or a cervical collar to reduce pain and stress on the neck.

Decreased Energy

Many car accident victims notice a significant lack of energy in the days and weeks following a car accident. A car accident may involve substantial physical trauma, which can make it difficult for you to engage in your usual activities. In addition, you may find that dealing with insurance companies, talking to the police, or repairing or replacing your vehicle can sap a great deal of your mental energy.

Your body will need to use more energy to heal effectively, especially if you sustained even minor injuries in the accident.

Stiffness

In addition to overall soreness, muscles injured in the accident may become stiff. You may notice that you have less flexibility than usual, and you may notice that your range of motion temporarily decreases. Heat, rest, and stretching can, in some cases, help resolve signs of stiffness; however, you should seek help and advice from a medical professional if you note sharp pain when stretching or moving around normally.

When Should You See a Doctor After a Car Accident?

After a car accident, you may wonder when to seek medical attention. What symptoms warrant the attention of a medical care provider, and when can you ride out any symptoms on your own?

In general, seek medical attention after any accident involving significant property damage or immense force. A minor fender bender can still cause serious injuries, especially in medically fragile patients, but those accidents may prove less likely to cause significant injury. On the other hand, you should always see a doctor if you experience any dangerous symptoms or obvious problems after your accident.

You feel extremely confused or disoriented.

Some disorientation after a car accident may prove normal. If you still feel confused or disoriented after the initial surge of adrenaline subsides, however, see a doctor in case you suffered a head injury. Traumatic brain injury can affect your life long after the accident, interfering with your focus and concentration and making it difficult for you to handle normal tasks. A doctor can help advise you about your next steps, including how to improve functionality while recovering from your injuries.

You have a headache that does not resolve with normal treatment.

Headaches could signify whiplash, brain injury, soft tissue strain, or other potentially serious injuries. If you have a headache that does not seem to resolve following a car accident, you may want your doctor to examine you for any further symptoms.

Others in your home have trouble waking you.

After an accident, you may sleep more as your body tries to heal itself and deal with any trauma you experienced from the incident. However, if you do not wake to normal stimuli—suddenly sleeping through your alarm when you usually wake immediately, for example—it could indicate a more serious injury, and you may need to seek medical attention.

You suffer any sharp pain.

Soreness usually manifests as dull, ongoing pain. Sharp pain, especially when bearing weight on or using a limb, could indicate a broken bone or significant soft tissue damage. If you suffer sharp pain after your accident, especially pain that does not resolve within a few days, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to rule out more significant injury.

Pain does not start to resolve after a few days, or it gets worse instead of starting to get better.

While soreness, including whiplash and other minor soft tissue injuries, may linger for several days or weeks after the accident, you should not notice pain getting worse more than a couple of days after the initial accident. If you notice increasing pain, it could indicate that you sustained a significant injury in the accident and that, as a result, you need to seek medical attention.

You should also seek medical attention if your pain does not start to resolve within a few days, or if you have trouble managing the pain. A medical care provider can offer you advice and support that will help you manage pain, whether you need to seek chiropractic help, visit a massage therapist, or try physical therapy to help resolve some of your symptoms.

You notice abdominal pain.

Your seatbelt can save your life in an accident, but it may also lead to other injuries. Sometimes, getting thrown into your seatbelt in an accident can lead to soft tissue injuries and even organ damage. If you notice abdominal pain, especially pain accompanied by swelling in the abdominal area, seek medical attention as soon as possible to rule out serious injuries.

You notice numbness or tingling in your limbs after the car accident.

Many injuries can cause numbness and tingling, both as a protective measure for the body and because of potential nerve damage. If you notice numbness or tingling after your car accident, seek attention from a medical professional so that you can rule out potential spinal injuries or nerve injuries.

You have significant back pain.

Back pain can relate to many potential injuries after an accident: whiplash, a herniated disc, or muscle trauma, for example. In some cases, particularly if you have a very strenuous job or, conversely, one that requires a great deal of sitting, you may find yourself struggling to resolve back pain on your own. Back pain can substantially impact every area of your life, making it difficult to work or engage in your preferred leisure activities. As such, see a professional to resolve back pain following your accident.

How to Streamline Car Accident Recovery

Time often serves as the best healer following a minor car accident. However, you can take some steps to help streamline your recovery and increase the odds that you will get back to normal faster.

See a doctor.

Medical care allows you to receive a diagnosis for any injuries you have sustained and get the treatment you need for them. Untreated injuries can worsen the longer you wait to receive care, and you may find that your injuries take longer to heal without medical attention.

Rest.

Your body needs rest to heal after an accident. Listen if your doctor recommends you take some time off from your usual activities, give yourself more time to sleep, and do not put additional strain on injured muscles.

Hydrate.

Proper hydration can prove essential to effective healing after an accident. Do not over-hydrate, which will have little impact, but make sure that you drink plenty of water during your recovery. Try swapping your usual soda for water or ensuring that you have a water bottle on hand throughout the day to improve overall hydration.

Eat healthily.

Your body needs protein to repair any damage caused by your accident. Overindulging on sugary treats, fast food, and junk food could cause you to slow down the healing process. Instead, choose to eat lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, rather than simple ones, to help give your body the tools it needs to recover.

Pay attention to your symptoms.

Do not write off or ignore your symptoms, especially if you notice increasing pain or struggle to recover after your accident. The longer you allow symptoms to go untreated, the more extreme they may become. You may worsen your symptoms by ignoring them.

Furthermore, if you wait a long time after a car accident to seek medical treatment, it may make it more difficult for you to file an injury claim that will allow you to pursue compensation for those injuries. If you have any worsening symptoms or severe symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

Your physical condition after a car accident may depend on various things, including your position in the vehicle, the force involved in the accident, and the protection the vehicle offers passengers in an accident. If you suffer any injury, you may deserve compensation. Talk to a car accident lawyer to learn more about the compensation you may deserve after a car accident injury.