The physical and mental trauma of a car accident happens in a flash. Just a fraction of a second can turn your health, finances, and entire life upside down.
But that fleeting moment isn’t always the end of it.
Some car accident injury symptoms take days or even weeks to fully show up.
That’s why it’s critical to get a thorough medical evaluation even if you feel fine, and to consult a personal injury attorney before dealing with insurers or anybody else.
This article will help you understand what signs to watch for, why these delayed collision injuries occur, and what to do if symptoms emerge in the aftermath of your accident.
Car Accident Injury Symptoms To Watch For
Some symptoms begin with surprisingly minor discomfort.
A little tightness, stiffness, or soreness can be part of daily life. But after a wreck, these aches and pains may be the first signs of soft tissue damage.
Of course, it’s always best to seek medical evaluation and legal counsel even if you feel well. Generally, you will not receive compensation for undetected injuries.
Neck & back pain
Emerging neck and pain is a common symptom of delayed injury from a car accident. It’s usually the result of strains to soft tissue, but may also reflect small spinal fractures.
The spine is connected by several small ligaments that hold delicate vertebrae in alignment. Between the vertebrae are discs that provide cushioning and lubrication. The intense forces of a car accident often stretch or tear these ligaments, resulting in pain that tends to increase in the days after.
In some cases, vertebrae may be compressed hard enough to damage discs or even the vertebrae themselves. This may also result in severe inflammation that irritates the many nearby nerves.
When rapid, jerking motion hurts the soft tissues of the neck, it’s known as whiplash. However, the entire spine is vulnerable to similar injuries, from the base of the skull down to the tailbone.
Headaches, nausea, or sensory changes
Concussions typically cause pain and nausea. It’s also common to experience sensory changes ranging from impaired sight or balance to persistent vertigo to tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Direct head impact is the usual cause, but you may have experienced a concussion without realizing it.
Any violent change in momentum is enough to compress the brain against the skull. Whatever the cause, that pressure inflicts some degree of concussion or more severe traumatic brain injury.
While there’s no need to panic at every little twinge, it’s critical to get a physician’s opinion if you notice changes in movement, vision, memory, focus, or any other neurological functions.
(The dizziness associated with a concussion isn’t necessarily the same thing as lightheadedness or fainting. Those also demand immediate attention, since they could reflect several underlying problems, including internal bleeding.)
Keep in mind that symptoms like headaches are common to both concussions and whiplash. If you see signs of either one, a physician may examine you for both.
Numb or tingly limbs
Take note of any odd sensations or numbness, especially in your limbs. This often suggests injury to or inflammation of tissue around major nerves.
For instance, leg and arm nerves may be compressed where they branch off of your spine. This can occur even without back or neck pain, since it takes surprisingly little inflammation to interfere with nerve function.
After a car accident, new or increasing abdominal pain is an alarming symptom that needs immediate attention.
Unlike generalized nausea or malaise following brain injury, more acute abdominal pain may mean bruised organs or even internal bleeding. Our internal organs are surprisingly robust, but the forces of a wreck are more than enough to injure them. And just like skin-level bruising, this can take hours or days to fully appear.
Abdominal pain is less common than other delayed injury symptoms, but may be one of the most severe.
Stiff or swollen joints
Tight, inflamed joints are a common collision injury symptom. They’re often accompanied by swelling or superficial tenderness.
Direct impact—like being thrust against a car door or steering wheel—may cause deep bruising as connective tissue is compressed between a bone and an external object.
In other collisions, a forceful change in momentum may cause hyperextension (excessive stretching). A torn tendon or ligament would be immediately noticeable, but partial tears and lesser strains can take time to manifest.
Finally, keep an eye out for shoulder and elbow issues in particular. They may bear the brunt of direct impact from a door. Likewise, our small hand and finger joints are easily strained.
Anxiety, depression, or trouble sleeping
Less often discussed, but equally important, are mental health symptoms.
Our brains simply aren’t designed for the trauma and fright of a collision, so anxiety, mood disorders, and even sleep dysfunction are common in the aftermath.
These often point to PTSD or a similar state. The mechanisms aren’t well understood, but psychological symptoms may be the brain’s way of dealing with the extreme stress of a collision.
If you or people close to you notice behavioral changes after a car accident, then take them seriously and get a professional evaluation.
What Kinds of Collision Injuries Might Be Delayed?
Some of the most common types of delayed car accident injuries are:
- Neck strain (e.g., whiplash)
- Concussion and brain trauma
- Back pain, spasms, or stiffness
- Internal bleeding
From skin to ligaments to brain matter, our bodies are filled with soft tissue. It’s all vulnerable to impact, and even to drastic changes in momentum.
But unlike skeletal injuries, which are relatively immediate and simple to diagnose, soft tissue injuries can manifest slowly and may require special medical imaging.
Why Are Some Car Accident Injuries Delayed?
Car accident injuries are often delayed when they involve soft tissue, including the brain. Factors like psychological stress and hormonal responses may play a role, although they’re harder to observe.
For the most part, bones either break or don’t break, which is generally clear from an X-ray.
But soft tissue injuries can be a product of bruising, excess stretching, inflammatory responses, and even postural compensation. These things may not leave immediate signs, and can be hard to detect clinically—especially before a little time has passed.
Additionally, our bodies respond to the indescribable stress of a collision by releasing a flood of hormones. This classic fight-or-flight response may numb pain and inhibit inflammation, but only for a matter of minutes or hours. Symptoms may evolve rapidly during that time as hormones return to normal levels.
What’s more, the psychological trauma of a serious collision can affect when and how we perceive pain. This phenomenon remains a bit mysterious, but it’s highly individual, and no less real than broken bones or lacerated skin.
What to Do if You Suspect Delayed Injuries
Above all, never sign or agree to anything until you’ve been thoroughly checked over by a medical professional. Once you’ve attended to your care, consider speaking with an attorney who specializes in car accidents.
Remember, insurers and other parties are fully aware that not all injuries appear right away. It’s in their best interest for you to waive or release potential claims as soon as possible. It’s in your best interest to ensure your injuries are fully and patiently documented.
Secondly, get a doctor’s evaluation even if you haven’t noticed any serious injuries. A healthcare provider may still find damage that’s poised to cause problems later. This affects not just your well-being, but also the compensation that you can pursue.
Finally, consider working with a legal team that specializes in collision injuries. We’re here to help accident victims like you to win fair compensation for the full extent of harm suffered.
Courts remain as backlogged as ever, so contact us promptly to schedule a consultation.