A car accident only takes a second, but the effects can be long-lasting. Research shows that vehicle collisions annually result in 4.8 million medically consulted injuries. That's only victims that visit the doctor — countless others deal with minor wounds at home.
If you've been in an accident recently, you'll probably experience some pain, even if the event was minor. Depending on your injuries, this pain could last a while — in the worst cases, it can become chronic. It depends on the condition and how quickly you seek treatment.
Most Common Car Accident Injuries
The physics of a collision plays a major part in sustained injuries. For example, your seatbelt prevents you from going through the windshield, but the abrupt stop can lead to other, less severe medical issues. As a result, certain injuries are incredibly common.
The most frequent damages fall into two categories: penetration and impact. Penetration is when an object breaks the skin, such as when broken glass causes a cut. Impact is when the body hits something with extreme force, such as slamming into the dashboard. Individuals may sustain several injuries in one or both categories during a collision.
Cuts and Scrapes
Many people walk away from accidents with superficial cuts and scrapes. Deep or large lacerations may require stitches, and all wounds involving broken skin should be cleaned to protect against infection. It's also a good idea to keep the wound covered with a bandage to prevent bacteria from entering it. You should change these bandages daily.
Sutured cuts heal in six to eight weeks, though the skin may remain more fragile than other areas for up to several years. Wounds without sutures can take as long as three months to heal fully.
However, infections can delay healing. Antibiotics and regular cleaning are usually enough to treat an infection, and most patients recover in 10 days. However, individuals with compromised immune systems or other preexisting conditions have a greater risk of sepsis. Contact your doctor immediately if you sustain an abrasion and experience the following:
- Slow healing
- Area is unusually hot
- Tenderness around the area
Whiplash is a soft tissue injury that affects the upper back and neck. Cases range in severity, impacting how long recovery takes. In the worst cases, individuals experience symptoms for months. If the injury affects the nervous system or spine, patients may have chronic issues.
However, most cases of whiplash resolve themselves in a few weeks or days. Individuals can speed up their recovery by using heat and cold to reduce inflammation, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as NSAIDs and resting. Since whiplash affects the neck's tendons, muscles and ligaments, patients may need a C-collar or other immobilization equipment to limit strain during recovery.
While not the most serious injury, broken bones can be painful, inconvenient and relatively slow to heal. In extreme cases, patients may need steel plates and screws to hold the bone in place while it heals. More commonly, individuals wear a cast to protect and stabilize the affected area.
The length of recovery times varies by the severity of the fracture and its location. For example, your shin bone can take more than five months to heal, while your wrist may only take one. All told, the average time for bone fractures to heal is between six and eight weeks.
Serious Injuries With Delayed Symptoms
Unfortunately, some of the most dangerous car accident injuries don't manifest immediately. Instead, it can take several days before victims experience the effects. This phenomenon is partially due to adrenaline; this hormone spikes in times of danger, allowing us to react quickly. Its presence can mask pain, an evolutionary benefit that allows humans to escape threats. However, as adrenaline levels return to normal, the effect fades, leaving car accident victims feeling stiff and hurt.
As a result, it's essential to pay close attention to your body after a collision. Symptoms can appear days or weeks afterward, often signaling something is wrong internally.
Brain injuries occur when something hits the head (like a loose object from inside the car) or when the body moves forward quickly only to stop abruptly, causing the brain to impact the inside of the skull (when a seatbelt activates). The latter is called a concussion and is unfortunately common in auto accidents.
Individuals with traumatic brain injuries may not immediately realize the severity of their condition or that they're injured at all. Symptoms tend to show up gradually and may appear minor at first. However, untreated brain injuries can lead to chronic conditions, so individuals should contact their physicians immediately if they experience any of the following:
- Slurred speech
- Unusual behavior
- Concentration or memory problems
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty waking up
- Nausea or vomiting
Even mild brain injuries require immediate medical care for the best outcomes. The path to recovery can be long and difficult, with more extreme cases taking a full year for patients to achieve a level of independence.
In the very worst case, a spinal injury is life-long. Individuals may lose the ability to move their limbs, walk or breathe on their own. Physical therapy can help many people regain some range of motion and muscle strength, but neurological damage is often permanent.
Those who can recover from their spinal cord injuries often need intense medical care initially, followed by months of physical therapy. Most patients make the most significant strides in the first 18 months of rehabilitation.
Blood clots are a crucial part of the healing process; they stop bleeding, allowing the body time to repair broken blood vessels and damaged tissue. They form in response to cuts as well as internal injuries, such as bruises. Once the area begins to heal, blood clots should naturally dissolve as the cells unstuck from each other. However, that doesn't always happen.
In some circumstances, when blood clots form in deep veins, they instead travel to the heart and lungs, where they can block major arteries, a condition called a pulmonary embolism. Since the blood can't flow, it can't deliver oxygen to cells, causing a stroke or heart attack.
Some pulmonary embolisms may require a medical procedure to correct, though others may respond to medication. Recovery can take months for some patients and weeks for others; the time frame depends on how quickly treatment started and how much damage the clot caused.
Internal Organ Damage
Sometimes, an extreme impact will damage internal organs without breaking the skin. The force can damage blood vessels, causing internal bleeding, and even tear the peritoneum, the membrane that surrounds organs. Though invisible, these wounds can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. After an accident, keep an eye out for the following:
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Passing out
- Low blood pressure
Severe internal bleeding usually requires surgery. Recovery generally takes two to three weeks, though complications and additional medical concerns may extend that time.
You may have grounds for a civil suit if you've sustained an injury in an auto accident. Johnson Attorneys Group can represent your personal injury case and help you obtain the compensation you deserve. The team at JAG always puts our clients first, advocating for victims after life-changing events. To schedule a free consultation, call 1-800-208-3538 or contact us online. We have representatives available 24/7 to take your call.