Car Accidents and Delayed Symptoms: What You Need to Know

Unexpected event - car accident on road

Car accidents are certainly nothing to scoff at, even seemingly minor ones. In a given year, roughly 2.5 million people visit a hospital as a result of being in a vehicle accident.

Almost 200,000 require overnight admission through the emergency room. Collectively, Americans will spend over 1 million days in the hospital as a result of being in vehicle accidents.

This time away from the comforts of home and the routines of work can take an enormous toll on individuals and families, in addition to the financial costs of any lengthy hospital stay. 

In terms of the upfront financial costs, a single hospital visit can easily run over 3 thousand dollars, while extended stays can end up costing over 50 thousand dollars! Those injured in car accidents face unique and hefty financial burdens.

In fact, research indicates that total lifetime costs exceed 18 billion dollars across all sufferers. More than three-quarters of these costs occur within the first year-and-a-half after the accident. However, the costs may not end there.

The inconvenience and costs of a hospital stay deter many people from seeking medical care in the direct aftermath of a car accident. This may be especially the case if they notice no immediate physical symptoms.

However, car accidents can often lead to delayed symptoms that can have long-term negative effects. Learn more about the risks of delayed symptoms:

Car Accident Factors that Influence the Development of Injuries

The injuries that you and your passengers sustain from even a simple accident may be complex and long-lasting. Any pain or stiffness can be as varied due to a combination of the kind of crash you had and the speed, bumping a parked car in a lot, turning too tightly around a corner and striking a pole, being rear-ended at a stoplight, or losing control on a cold and slippery road.

Where you were sitting in the car, whether or not you were wearing a seatbelt, your height, weight, and age. The kind of car you were driving, the kind of vehicle or object that was hit, and your immediate reaction during the crash are other factors that will influence the outcomes of an accident.

Needless to say, with so many potential causes and influential factors, the effects of an accident can be unexpected, with even minor accidents having at least some effect.

Car accident hitting their head against headrest
A graphic of a person in a car accident hitting their head against a headrest. Image source: iStock Images

Factors that Can Influence the Development of Delayed Injuries

Even minor accidents can cause lasting pain for yourself and your passengers, especially if you take into account delayed symptoms. Those delayed symptoms are more common than you may realize and they happen because car accidents can be shocking.

In a car accident, assuming you were awake and alert, you would probably experience something called an adrenaline rush. This adrenaline rush can mask the physical effects of some injuries, pushing them to the back of your conscious awareness until the danger of the situation has passed.

Later, you may arrive home hours after an accident, collapse into your favorite chair, and doze off. It may be once you awake that you feel the pain and stiffness in your neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, or ankles.

You may also have trouble getting up out of that chair, notice some swelling in your feet or hands, and then have trouble sleeping again due to the pain. 

Unlike the damage to your car or truck, damage to your joints, muscles, bones, ligaments, internal organs, or even brain can be harder to detect.

It is not out of the ordinary for a driver or their passengers to walk away from an accident, turn down on-site medical attention (thinking that they are fine), and end up needing significant medical interventions due to serious musculoskeletal or neuromuscular injuries, such as concussion, whiplash, internal organ bruising or bleeding, small bone fractures, or twisted or strained muscles.

Human Body Movements that might occur in car accident
Graphic representation of the movements that might occur in a car accident. Image source: iStock Images

Common Delayed Injuries Experienced After a Car Accident

Whiplash is one of the most common types of injuries resulting from vehicle accidents. This happens when the car stops or turns suddenly, causing a person’s neck to “whip” back and forth rapidly. It may not be felt right away, but it can cause significant pain and injury to the muscles and tendons in the neck.

In severe instances, whiplash can result in damage to the vertebrae, which can cause significant, long-lasting pain in the back, neck, and head. This condition does not begin immediately after the accident and several symptoms of whiplash can arise days later:

  • Headaches
  • Reduced range of motion or difficulty moving
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Vertigo
  • Muscle spasms
  • Localized weakness or numbness
  • Stiffness in shoulders and arms

Besides whiplash, concussions are the next most common car accident injury, and they can be at least as debilitating and threatening to your long-term health. A concussion happens when the brain crashes around inside the skull, as a result of the sudden acceleration/deceleration during an accident.

This usually happens when a person’s head suddenly hits a hard surface, with the brain bouncing back and forth hitting the interior of the skull. This causes the forebrain and the hindbrain to both make an impact on the skull, creating coup and counter-coup injuries.

This action, if it results in a concussion, can lead to serious pain along with these symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Bad temper
  • Nausea
  • Spasms
  • Loss of balance
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Amnesia
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty concentrating or reasoning
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Tiredness, sleeplessness, or other problems with your ability to sleep

Again, due to the effects of adrenaline, symptoms might be delayed. Other times, people may just attribute any brain effects to the stress of the situation. Finally, the effects of a brain injury may just not be immediately noticeable to the sufferer.

It may be the next time you do a task and struggle that you realize something may be wrong. For these reasons, it is important to seek out immediate medical attention after an accident, especially if symptoms do appear. 

Other injuries that may show up later could be muscle strain, bruising, or even minor fractures. As noted, some of these injuries may not become apparent until the next day after your adrenaline has settled down.

Sometimes they show up once you go to do physical activity. In any case, you will want to seek medical attention. If not right away, when you notice problems.

Anchorage Chiropractor making adjustments to a patient's back.
Anchorage Chiropractor making adjustments to a patient’s back. Image source: iStock Images

Recommendations For What To Do If You Are In A Car Accident

Logistically, because so many car accident-related injuries are not immediately obvious, you could end up paying out-of-pocket for medical expenses that you thought your insurance would cover if you did not seek medical attention right away.

To avoid this problem, you may want to consider waiting to sign a release of liability until a few days after an accident, just to see if there are delayed symptoms. This way, you will be financially protected from your medical expenses.

In terms of your physical health and wellness, it is recommended to get yourself checked out after an accident. If not right away, then do so when symptoms do appear. If you suspect a concussion, it is important to seek medical attention and evaluation right away.

For muscle strains, such as whiplash, your best choice may be to see a chiropractor for medical evaluation, treatment options, and advice on how to manage the pain. Doing so as soon as possible after an accident can help you to avoid bigger problems later on.

Doctors of chiropractic care are trained to help identify such injuries and start treatment promptly. A chiropractor for auto accident injuries is a great way to get back to feeling like yourself again in a non-invasive way. In most instances, getting swift medical attention after an accident can drastically improve your chances of recovery.

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