The few seconds it takes for an auto accident to occur can cause a wide range of traumatic injuries with varying consequences. While some injuries result in immediate pain, it’s common for symptoms to begin days or even weeks after the event.
Our auto accident specialist, Shoeb Mohiuddin, MD, of Regenerative Pain & Spine in Chicago, Illinois, provides expert diagnosis and treatment of pain associated with car accidents. As an interventional pain management specialist, Dr. Mohiuddin uses a variety of approaches to determine the cause of your pain and help you achieve relief as quickly as possible.
Pain after a car accident can last from a few days to a lifetime, depending on several factors. Find out about injuries that can occur from a car accident.
How car accident injuries occur
When your car impacts another vehicle, you’re moving at the same speed as your car. If you’re wearing a seatbelt, it prevents you from continuing to move when the car suddenly stops.
If you’re unbelted at the time of impact, you continue moving until you collide with a steering wheel, dashboard, windshield, or a person in front of you that forces you to stop. The resulting impact causes injuries.
However, your body’s internal organs can continue to move forward even after your body comes to a complete stop. The forceful stop can cause your organs to collide with each other, resulting in internal damage.
The type of injury that occurs and the degree of pain you experience depend on the following factors:
Age: The younger you are, the more likely you’ll feel better faster.
Overall health: If you have pre-existing orthopedic injuries, being in a car accident can aggravate an existing issue and/or cause new ones. Some conditions, like diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, can slow healing.
Position in the vehicle: The type of injury you sustain depends on where you were seated in the vehicle and the direction of the crash impact (side, front, or rear of the car).
Safety devices used: Safety devices such as seatbelts and airbags can reduce your risk of critical injuries, though these devices may cause bruises and soreness.
Injuries that occur due to a sudden change in momentum result in soft-tissue damage.
Soft-tissue injuries include the following conditions:
- Contusion - a bruise characterized by pain, swelling, and discoloration
- Sprain - a partial tear in a ligament, which attaches bone to bone
- Stress fracture - a small crack in a bone
- Strain - an injury or tear in a muscle
- Tendon rupture - a tear in a tendon, which attaches muscle to bone
A soft-tissue injury can affect your neck or back, or joints like your shoulders, hips, knees, and elbows. While these injuries can be traumatic and cause long-lasting debilitation, they develop slowly because symptoms of swelling, inflammation, and stiffness typically don’t begin at the time of the accident.
Whiplash, or neck strain, is a form of soft-tissue injury that occurs when your head and neck experience a sudden back-and-forth jerking motion, like the crack of a whip. Whiplash can damage your ligaments, muscles, vertebrae, and nerves in your neck and upper back.
While you may not experience pain immediately, you may have whiplash symptoms within the first few days, or sometimes longer, after the injury. Signs of whiplash can include neck pain and stiffness, headaches, shoulder pain, or difficulty concentrating.
Most cases of whiplash resolve in a few days, though some injuries can take weeks or longer to heal.
Back injuries occur when your car shifts positions under you. The effect pushes the small discs along your spine out of alignment or twists the discs. Serious accidents can fracture your vertebrae and cause spinal cord injuries.
A broken back causes pain at the site of the fracture and worsens when you move. Pain typically increases when you move, though numbness can result if a broken bone is compressing spinal nerves.
Healing can take 6-12 weeks, or even longer if surgery is necessary to reposition the bones and stabilize the spine into a normal position.
When a back sprain or strain occurs, the injury can cause stiffness or muscle spasms. It can also result in the inability to maintain normal posture, walk normally, or bend forward or sideways.
Ignoring pain after an auto accident, even if it begins after an extended period, can increase your risk of symptoms worsening. Depending on the extent of the injury, long-term mobility and lifelong pain can occur without treatment.
Based on the location and degree of pain you’re experiencing, Dr. Mohiuddin may prescribe one or more of the following treatments for long-term relief to promote the natural healing process and improve your quality of life:
- Over-the-counter or prescription medications
- Physical therapy
- Shock wave therapy
- Epidural injections
- Spinal cord stimulation
- Regenerative medicine therapies
If you’ve been involved in a car accident, get a medical evaluation to determine the cause of any pain. To schedule a consultation, call one of our offices in the West Ridge area of Chicago.