What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident

Car accidents are chaotic. The noise and turbulence are enough to cause trauma to everyone involved. Among the traumas one may experience in a car accident are a range of physical injuries. These traumas have consequences not just in the immediate aftermath of the accident, but potentially for the rest of a person’s life. Physical injury is unfortunately common in car accidents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around three million people suffer non-fatal car accident injuries in the U.S. each year. This piece goes over what one can expect after experiencing a physical injury in a car accident.

You Will Not Necessarily Feel Hurt Immediately Following a Car Accident Injury

Just because you are feeling fine immediately after a car accident does not mean you have evaded physical injury. You might not feel pain immediately due to an adrenaline rush. Adrenaline, known as the “fight or flight hormone,” is released in stressful and dangerous situations.

The release of this hormone begins when the brain perceives danger, setting off a process that concludes with adrenal glands pumping adrenaline into the bloodstream. One of the most common effects of adrenaline is a decreased ability to feel pain. Other effects include a rapid heart rate or rapid breathing, sweating, heightened senses, increased strength or performance, and feeling jittery or nervous. These symptoms can last up to an hour after the hormones have been released into the body.

Another reason you may not feel hurt after an accident is that many injuries have delayed symptoms. Some injuries with delayed symptoms include soft tissue injuries (e.g., whiplash), spinal and traumatic brain injuries (e.g., concussions), and injuries involving internal bleeding. Any one of these injuries can have serious consequences if not treated promptly.

Because you might experience an injury but not feel pain or notice other symptoms right away, always get a professional medical evaluation after a car accident to ensure that no hidden or delayed injuries could cause you problems. Your lawyer can use the medical evaluation as evidence to pursue compensation for you.

You May Experience a Lot of Pain

Clearly, many car accident injuries are extremely painful.

In fact, some of the traumatic injuries commonly experienced in car accidents made a recent list of the most painful medical conditions to suffer from, including:

  • Frozen shoulder: This condition causes the shoulder joint to become stiff, making it difficult for the individual to make even the smallest movements with their arm. Frozen shoulder often occurs after a traumatic injury such as that suffered in a car accident, and is more common in individuals who have diabetes.
  • Slipped disc: The discs of the spine are filled with gel and act as a cushion between the spinal vertebrae. In a car accident, these discs can rupture, causing gel to leak out. Some of the symptoms of this painful injury include a severe, sudden pain in the lower back that is made worse by coughing or moving.
  • Broken bones: Around seven million people in the U.S. break bones each year, with many of those bone breaks occurring from a motor vehicle accident. Those who suffer broken bones describe the pain as a deep, aching sensation. Any bone break can be painful, but some more than others. Tibia (shin bone) breaks are often described as causing extreme pain. Broken ribs can also cause an extraordinary amount of pain; even the simple act of breathing after breaking ribs can cause great pain, and can pose an additional danger of creating internal injuries if the broken rib pieces are pushed up against other organs.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): This condition begins when an individual suffers an injury such as a burn or a bone fracture—both common in car accidents. CRPS results in a burning sensation in the area that was injured. Often this sensation is so intense that it is more painful than the original injury.

Treatment of Car Accident Injuries Can Be Extensive and Last a Long Time

Some car accident injuries are so severe that they can require years, if not one’s whole life-time, of medical treatment to address the cascade of complications caused by the injury. Spinal cord injuries, for example, can cause complete loss of sensation and function below the portion of the spine that was injured. This loss, commonly referred to as paralysis, results in a variety of complications that typically require continual medical care. Spinal cord injuries can be life-threatening if not addressed adequately.

Common complications of spinal cord injuries may include:

  • Respiratory complications: If the injury occurs high on the spine, an individual can suffer paralysis in the diaphragm and the muscles of the chest wall and abdomen. This can make it difficult for the individual to breathe or cough, and can result in respiratory complications such as pneumonia and other lung problems.
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control: After a spinal cord injury, an individual’s digestive and urinary systems will often continue to work as they did before the injury. However, damage to the spine can impair signals necessary to control these functions, and can cause additional medical problems, such as kidney stones or constipation.
  • Skin sensation: A car accident spinal cord injury may result in a loss of sensation on the surface of the skin, creating many potential complications, as the individual can no longer tell if a surface is too hot or too cold to safely touch. Additionally, the loss of mobility and skin sensation that some injuries cause results in an increased risk of pressure ulcers, also known as bed sores. The inability to feel these sores on the skin places a person at risk of the sores worsening or even becoming infected.
  • Circulatory issues: Circulatory problems can arise after a car accident spinal cord injury, including low blood pressure, swelling of extremities, and the risk of developing blood clots, such as deep vein thrombosis. Pieces of a clot can break free and travel through the circulatory system to the lungs, where they can result in a potentially fatal condition known as a pulmonary embolus. Another circulatory issue experienced after spinal cord injuries is autonomic hyperreflexia, which involves a life-threatening rapid rise in blood pressure.

Your Injury Can Damage Every Part of Your Life

Those who suffer serious injuries in car accidents quickly realize that the injury is not isolated, and the impacts extend to many different areas of a person’s life over an indeterminate time. Dealing with serious injuries from a car accident is a day-to-day, hour-to-hour challenge.

Traumatic brain injuries, for example, can cause permanent deficits that may pose a wide array of deficits, depending not only on the severity of the injury but the portion of the brain that sustained the injury. Thus, a traumatic brain injury may result in loss of ability to speak or to understand spoken language, to control one’s own behavior or emotions, to move in a balanced and coordinated manner, or to recall information or events. This type of injury also often causes chronic fatigue, dizziness, and an inability to focus for long times. These symptoms are not merely medical issues, but have an impact on every facet of a person’s life. Some of the ways a car accident injury with permanent symptoms can impact a person’s life include:


The lifetime costs of medical expenses alone for car accident injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries or damage to the spinal cord, can range in the millions of dollars. This financial burden is only compounded by the fact that car accident victims often lose their source of income due to being too injured to return to work and even face the chance of permanently losing their source of income if they never recover enough to return to work. Adults in the U.S. who suffer a brain injury remain unemployed longer at a higher rate than the general population.

At Work

Those who return to work after suffering a car accident injury often need to accommodate the injury with shorter and fewer workdays and lighter workloads. Those whose limitations are too extensive to return to their job may have to take different positions involving tasks that are more physically appropriate for their physical ability.

At Home

Severe injuries can also significantly impact an individual’s home life, changing the nature of relationships with other members of the family. Spouses and children can find themselves in a caretaker role, and may even need to take up work to contribute to the household finances or maintain the household, if the injured family member can’t work outside the home or perform household services. Often, it is necessary to make expensive home renovations to accommodate the injury, such as lowered countertops, roll-in showers, and automatic doors.

In the Community

Friends who lined the hallway of the hospital immediately after a car accident might not be as present as time goes on. If an injured person can no longer participate in the activities they previously enjoyed, inertia takes effect as others continue their lives as they were, unfortunately, to the exclusion of the injured. Many injuries result in physical and emotional conditions that make it difficult for the injured person to participate in any kind of community event. Understandably, many people severely injured in car accidents in isolation feel that no one understands or cares what they are going through.

Counteracting the Harms of a Car Accident

If you suffered a severe injury in a car accident caused by someone else’s reckless or careless actions, you can pursue compensation for the expenses you incur from your injury, as well as for your pain and the impacts the injury has on your quality of life. Compensation is typically recovered via a car accident lawsuit, which is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to recover compensation from a responsible party by proving their fault for the accident and showing the expenses and impacts the resulting injuries have caused.

To prove liability (legal responsibility for injury) a car accident injury victim must show:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care. The duty of care refers to the way a reasonable person would act in similar circumstances. Generally, the duty of care that the driver of a motor vehicle owes to others on the roadway is to operate his or her vehicle safely and legally.
  • The defendant breached their duty of care. “Breach” refers to the actions that the at-fault party took that were contrary to the duty of care that was owed. Common examples of the breach in car accident cases include speeding, tailgating, failing to yield, distracted driving, or driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
  • The breach led to the accident, which caused your injury and subsequent expenses and impacts.

The damages you may recover in a car accident include those related to:

  • Past and anticipated medical expenses to treat the injury
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earning capacity, if your injuries prevent you from returning to work or to earn the same amount as you did before the accident
  • Compensation for property losses
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of the enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium or ability to have a relationship with loved ones.

While every case requires collecting evidence to support a claim, the vast majority of car accident lawsuits do not end with the plaintiff having to prove fault and injury to the court, as the parties settle the case for an agreed amount before a final trial. Still, to get a defendant to settle for a fair amount, you need to show you have a strong case, such that they could be held liable for a much greater amount if they forego the opportunity to settle for a fair amount. For this reason, hire an experienced car accident attorney in your car accident injury case.