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A car accident can happen at any time. According to Statista, more than nine million vehicles were involved in auto accidents in the US in 2020 — and let’s not forget that this was during a global pandemic when fewer vehicles were on the road.
Fortunately, individuals mostly sustain relatively minor injuries in such accidents. Sometimes, a person might walk away from an accident feeling completely fine, but is that the full picture?
How the Body Reacts to Trauma After A Car Accident
When the body encounters a stressful or traumatic event, like an accident, it releases various hormones to keep us safe. These include adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure and increases glucose production from the liver to give you extra energy to respond.
Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone, and it reduces inflammation, which is why it can also mask pain.
While this is your body’s natural response to keep you safe, you can see how it could become a problem. You might sustain injuries in an accident that the naked eye can’t see, but because the hormones are numbing the senses, you won’t know about it until much later.
This is called delayed injury. However, not all delayed injuries are caused by your body’s response to an accident. Others might not become apparent until hours or even days later — long after your body has regulated itself — and they can seriously affect your health.
We look at some of the most common delayed injuries and the steps you should take after an accident.
Whiplash is a common car accident injury caused by the muscles and ligaments in the neck being stretched or torn. It’s especially prevalent in rear-end collisions, where the impact causes the driver or passenger to jerk forward.
The most common symptoms of whiplash are neck pain, headaches, stiffness or difficulty moving your head, and shoulder spasms.
In severe cases, whiplash can cause blurry vision, lightheadedness, and fatigue. While symptoms usually appear a few hours or days after a car accident, it’s not uncommon for whiplash symptoms to manifest weeks later.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a common auto accident injury, but any accident that causes rapid movement or a blow to the head can result in one.
You don’t need a visible injury, such as bleeding, to sustain a traumatic brain injury. The majority of TBIs are invisible injuries, so you might have one without realizing it. Common symptoms of a TBI include headaches, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems, but more severe brain injuries can cause loss of consciousness and trouble communicating, such as slurred speech.
Again, TBI symptoms don’t always present immediately and can be subtle. If you have a mild headache days after an accident, you might dismiss it as a normal headache, but it could be a delayed injury.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries like sprains and strains affect the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, but they’re not always immediately apparent. While adrenaline can mask any pain you might feel after sustaining a sprain, one of the most common reasons this injury is delayed is that it develops over time. You might sprain your leg and not be in pain, so you resume your daily activities as if nothing is wrong. However, all that weight on your leg worsens the sprain, causing discomfort.
While soft tissue injuries might not seem serious — especially compared to the other common accident injuries — they can have a long-term impact.
People with soft tissue injuries might experience chronic pain lasting months or years. If it affects their ability to go to work or do activities they previously enjoyed, it can also cause significant emotional distress. Even with treatment, soft tissue injuries can lead to permanent weakness or limited range of motion.
While most physical injuries heal over time, psychological injuries can be particularly devastating. A car accident is a traumatic event, and trauma can cause various psychological reactions, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A person may have depression or anxiety after an accident because they are scared about being involved in another accident. This can disrupt their activities and entire life, making it difficult to take even small steps to get back into a regular routine.
A car accident can also lead to PTSD, causing an individual to relive the event repeatedly. They might have nightmares or flashbacks and become withdrawn.
In some cases, a person’s injuries can lead to psychological injury. For example, if a person sustains a traumatic brain injury that causes them to slur their speech, they may be embarrassed or frustrated at being unable to communicate verbally, impacting their relationships. A person with visible scars or burns after an accident may be self-conscious and become withdrawn; where they isolate themselves from their friends and family.
Then, there’s the financial impact of an accident. Even minor injuries often need treatment, but emergency room fees, medication, and physical therapy all cost money. If a person can’t work because of their injury and they face hefty medical bills, they may be anxious about providing for their family or depressed about their financial situation.
Car Accident Injury: Conclusion
All of these injuries demonstrate that even if a person doesn’t have immediate symptoms after a car accident, it doesn’t mean they’re not hurt. This makes it vital to seek medical attention, even if you feel completely fine. It might be that the injury hasn’t developed yet or that the release of stress hormones is masking it. Whatever the case, a medical professional can diagnose any hidden injuries and tell you what signs to look out for so you don’t dismiss the symptoms once they arrive.
This is also vital if you aren’t responsible for your accident, as you might be entitled to compensation. A car accident lawyer can use your medical records as evidence to secure a settlement that covers your bills, lost wages, and more — even if you don’t have immediate symptoms.