No one gets into a car anticipating an accident. But every year, over a million people get injured in road accidents across the nation. Speeding, distracted driving, and driving while intoxicated or fatigued are some of the leading causes of devastating accidents on our roads.
We wish you a quick recovery if you were injured in a crash. We understand that every day presents new challenges and struggles, even as you adjust to your current situation.
Hopefully, knowing what to expect physically after a car accident will help you cope and empower you to take the necessary steps for a smooth recovery.
Overview of the Accident Aftermath
Generally, following an accident, see an orthopedic doctor or other physician experienced in treating accident patients for a thorough physical examination. While injuries like broken bones, lacerations, and burns are identifiable immediately, some internal injuries can take hours or days to manifest. Other injuries may go undiagnosed for weeks and then develop into life-threatening conditions. An experienced doctor will identify invisible injuries and provide treatment to keep your injuries from getting worse.
Aside from physical damage, it is also normal to experience mental and emotional distress from the trauma, pain, and anxiety about how the injuries will affect your life. If your injuries are severe, the resulting medical costs and inability to work during your recovery can lead to financial strain. To reduce your financial burden, you may seek compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance company (or from your own insurer if the at-fault party is uninsured or underinsured).
Typically, after establishing fault, insurance companies do not have issues paying parties entitled to compensation. However, an insurance company may not process your claim quickly and may offer you a lower settlement amount than you feel is fair. Having an attorney to fight for fair compensation can greatly help this process. In addition, having an attorney takes away the stress of having to pursue the payment on your own, which can be overwhelming while you’re still recovering.
With this in mind, let’s discuss what to expect physically after a car accident in more detail.
Common Injuries After a Car Accident
Generally, the injuries vary based on the severity of the accident and the force of the impact on the car occupants.
Some common injuries include:
- Broken Bones – Unlike some other injuries, broken bones result in immediate pain, which can be immensely agonizing. This type of injury calls for emergency care and may necessitate an X-ray, casting, screw fixation, bracing, or other forms of treatment. Depending on how extreme the damage is, full recovery may take months.
- Neck and Back Sprain – Sudden jolting, especially from a rear-end collision, may cause a person’s neck and back tendons to sprain. The pain can manifest immediately or several days after the accident, depending on the impact of the collision. Once treated, pain may go away in four to six weeks.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) – If a person hits their head against an object during a collision, they may suffer a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. A TBI may manifest on the spot or after a while. The injury may be minor or severe, depending on the impact. A TBI can take longer to resolve; healing usually takes about two years but can take up to ten years.
- Mental Health Challenges – The pain and suffering from an accident puts undue stress on a person’s mental well-being. Persistent anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depressive disorder are common mental health conditions that arise following vehicle accidents. For this reason, psychological therapy is also helpful for those injured in accidents, as it can help with coping. Generally, stress and mental illness can inhibit the body’s healing processes and slow down recovery.
- Soft Tissue Injuries – Soft tissue injuries may occur on any part of the body. While some soft tissue injuries may be open and visible, like cuts and bruises, other injuries may be internal and can take time to manifest, depending on the severity of the injury. Healing from soft tissue injuries can take from a few days to several months, based on the extent of the damage.
- Internal Bleeding – Following a crash, the trauma to the body may rupture blood vessels, resulting in internal bleeding. While internal bleeding near the skin can often be identified through skin discoloration, damage to the internal organs might not manifest immediately.
This list is by no means exhaustive. A car crash can cause injuries to any body part, including chest and stomach trauma, knee, ankle, shoulder, and spinal cord injury, or burns. A car accident may trigger an adrenaline rush, which could delay the manifestation of symptoms for hours. Because damage may not be external, getting examined immediately after the accident could be good for your safety.
What Physical Symptoms Should You Expect After a Car Accident
Even after a fender bender accident, you should expect your body to be sore from the impact. The soreness may disappear after a while if you don’t have any injuries. However, it could also indicate underlying issues that require immediate treatment.
Besides the soreness, you may experience other conditions depending on the type of injury you sustain and its severity.
These may include:
- Headaches – Head injuries such as TBI or even damage to any part of the body may trigger headaches.
- Shoulder Pain – Injuries to the neck or back may trigger pain in the shoulder, which can arise after several days. A direct impact on the shoulder can also trigger shoulder pain.
- Back Pain – Damage to the spinal cord or tissue sprain can cause back pain. Injury, especially to your spinal cord, can worsen with time, so it is essential to have the pain evaluated immediately.
- Numbness and Tingling – If a nerve is damaged during an accident, it can cause numbness, tingling, or a pins and needles sensation. A slipped disc, commonly referred to as a herniated disc, may also cause numbness.
- Abdominal Pain – Tightening of the seatbelt on the abdomen due to sudden jolting can cause soft tissue damage (stomach trauma). However, internal bleeding can also manifest as stomach pain.
- Swelling – Swelling may start immediately or develop gradually. While some swelling can result from a mild blow to the affected region, severe internal injuries could cause other swelling.
- Tinnitus – Tinnitus is a constant ringing sound in the ear. This can be caused either by a loud noise during the crash or by a concussion.
- Opioid Addiction – The pain from an accident may require the administration of pain killers. After using opioid drugs for an extended duration, some people develop a dependence on them, leading to addiction.
- Chronic Fatigue – If the injuries result in excruciating pain, they may hinder sleep. Unaddressed, this may lead to chronic fatigue syndrome.
How Long Does Recovery From Accident Injuries Take?
Your recovery will depend on many factors. For instance, a younger patient may recover faster than an older person from the same type of injury. Your overall health status may also impact how quickly you recover. Your age and health status affect how your body responds to treatment and begins healing.
Other factors that may affect your recovery include:
- The severity of the Injuries – The extent of the injuries also contributes to how fast you recover. For instance, soft tissue injuries may take less time to heal than serious injuries such as severe TBI or bone fractures.
- Quality of Treatment – While most physicians can treat accident injuries, the quality of care you receive may vary depending on which facility you visit. For example, a facility with sophisticated equipment and advanced patient care might offer a superior patient experience, leading to accelerated healing.
How to Improve Your Recovery
While the above factors may affect how quickly you recover, there are things you can do to enhance your overall recovery.
- Getting Prompt Treatment – As noted, there are times when injuries are not immediately apparent, which might tempt you to ignore seeing a doctor. However, some injuries can worsen if left untreated, resulting in a longer recovery time.
- Following the doctor’s instructions – No one anticipates an accident; when accidents occur, they disrupt life in many ways. You will want to heal as quickly as possible to recover lost time. If you start feeling better, you may ignore a doctor’s instructions to remain on bed rest, or you may forgo some medications that have unfavorable side effects. Unfortunately, such actions can be counterproductive as they may end up prolonging your recovery.
- Keeping Up With Physical Therapy – Unlike medication that might work quickly, physical therapy does not always yield the desired outcome immediately. Therefore, you may be tempted to quit too early. Even if you don’t see any changes due to your therapy, keeping up with the appointments can produce gradual improvements.
- Making Positive Lifestyle Changes – Your lifestyle is central to how soon you can recover from the accident. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and drinking enough water can contribute positively to your recovery.
How Long Does Recovery Take?
That said, if your injuries are minor, your recovery might take a few days or weeks. On the other hand, significant injuries can take months or even years to heal fully. All the same, the above factors could shorten or prolong your recovery.
How to Finance Your Treatment After a Car Accident
Your ability to finance your treatment also determines how soon you recover. Treatment could include emergency room service (if applicable), doctor’s appointments, tests, surgery, medication, physical therapy, and psychological therapy. Fortunately, there are different options you can explore to finance your treatment even as you wait to recover from the at-fault party’s insurance company.
- Private Health Insurance – If you have private health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare coverage, you can use this insurance to cover the bills. However, insurance payments will be limited to the medical procedures covered under the policy.
- Medical Payment Insurance – If you have Medical Payment Insurance as part of your auto insurance coverage, you may be able to use the benefit to cover your medical expenses.
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP) – If you live in a no-fault state and carry Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, it can help you pay for medical expenses. Generally, PIP coverage allows you to recover your losses from an accident regardless of fault. However, this coverage may not be available if you live in at-fault states.
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage – If an uninsured or underinsured party caused the crash, and you have the add-on uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in your policy, you may be able to use it to pay for your medical expenses.
- At-Fault Party Insurance –
- Finally, you may be able to claim damages from the at-fault party’s insurer. While it is possible to receive payment while you are still undergoing treatment, you may not receive total compensation until you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). Since this might take time, you may sign a lien to allow a hospital to cover your medical costs and then receive payment in your place once the insurer settles your claim.
How Can a Lawyer Help You as You Recover Physically?
Seeking proper treatment after an accident is crucial to your recovery. It also creates the necessary records to support your claim when seeking insurance compensation.
However, your healing may sometimes depend on your state of mind. Stressing over the piling bills or dealing with the frustrations that characterize many settlement processes can be counterproductive to your health and recovery.
That’s why having a lawyer helping you with the compensation process and handling any legal hurdles that crop up can be beneficial to your overall recovery. Depending on what is necessary in your case, an attorney can help by advising you, helping you preserve, gather, and compile evidence, preparing witness statements, filing claims, and negotiating a settlement. An attorney experienced in car accident personal injury claims could help ease these burdens.