When you combine high speeds, heavy vehicles, and unpredictable drivers, the severity of injuries caused by car and truck crashes often become life-threatening. Even in accidents at lower speeds, the resulting injuries can be surprisingly severe.
Although many of the following types of injuries could occur in different kinds of accidents, it is important for victims and their loved ones to be aware of the symptoms and the potential for long term disability. A single traffic accident can change your life in an instant. Understanding the benefits of pursuing immediate and ongoing medical treatment after an accident can not only improve your physical recovery, but can also help your case if you decide to file a lawsuit against the negligent driver who caused the accident.
Brain injuries and concussions
Even if you have not received any visible cuts or bruises in an accident, the brain can be injured. A closed-head injury is one of the most common injuries in car crashes, and it can also be one of the most unpredictable. Brain injuries in an accident can range in severity from a mild concussion to a life-altering disability, and it’s not always clear how long it might take to recover or what the effect will be on the person’s life.
Victims of brain injuries can experience a wide range of symptoms and limitations, including:
- Chronic headaches
- Seizures or convulsions
- Difficulty speaking
- Trouble with focus and memory
- Difficulty with movement and coordination
- Personality changes and long-term social difficulties
Even mild or moderate brain injuries after an accident can be deceiving because they can continue to create difficulties for years. Unfortunately, the subtle symptoms of more moderate brain injuries are often initially overlooked after a car accident—by both the injury victim and their doctor.
Whiplash, neck strain, and other neck injuries are very common in car accidents; especially rear-end collisions. While seatbelts help to restrain most of the body in the event of an accident, the bones, muscles, and nerves in the neck can be very vulnerable during a sudden impact. Depending on what part of the neck was affected, the victim might experience short-term neck pain or more serious injuries that could prevent them from working and lead to a lengthy period of partial disability.
Many factors can impact the severity of a neck injury. Here are just a few:
- Height and headrests. Headrests can help prevent injuries, but only if they are adjusted correctly. A person’s height combined with the placement of the headrest can impact the severity of a person’s neck injury.
- Seating position. How a person’s body is positioned at the time of impact can affect the severity of a neck injury. For example, a person could be leaning forward over the steering wheel or relaxed and leaning back into the seat.
- Vehicle size. The size of the car or passenger truck that the victim is riding in, the size of the car or truck that strikes the victim’s car, and the size differential between the two vehicles also plays a part in the significance of the neck injuries.
Whiplash symptoms and related costs
A whiplash injury is painful and can be costly for the victim. Most people will quickly recover, but others deal with the painful side effects for years. Typical symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck pain
- Sensory disturbance (i.e. pins and needles sensation) in the arms and legs
- Shoulder pain
It has been estimated that costs related to whiplash injuries have reached over $8.5 billion annually in the United States. This figure factors in expenses such as medical care, disability, sick leave, lost productivity and litigation.
Back pain and disc injuries
Some back injuries are more serious than others. “Soft tissue" injuries like back sprains and back strains are common in traffic accidents and typically heal with minimal treatment in a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, some of the more serious types of spinal injuries are responsible for chronic discomfort over a lifetime.
More serious back injuries involve vertebral fractures and damage to the intervertebral discs. These discs are flat and round, serving as "shock absorbers" for your spine. They have a firm outer shell with a jellylike substance inside. An accident can damage these discs, causing disc herniation, tears, bulges and protrusions. These kinds of disc injuries are sometimes referred to as a "blown" or “slipped” disc. Disc injuries are often permanent and can have a significant negative impact on a person’s daily life.
Other serious back injuries from accidents include spine fracture, dislocation of the spine, and nerve compression in the back (cauda equine syndrome). Each one of these back injuries can cause immense pain and may leave you unable to work. When back pain follows a car accident, medical treatment is absolutely necessary to determine what part of the back or spine has been affected and what treatments might help to relieve pain and support recovery.
Nerve damage and spinal cord injuries
A spinal cord injury may present itself with symptoms like arm or leg weakness, numbness, and often results in permanent paralysis. The nerves in the spinal cord do not have the ability to heal themselves. If the spinal cord is injured, crushed, or severed, it cannot ever be reconnected, leaving victims with an injury that will never fully heal.
Unfortunately, there are a number of ways spinal cord injuries commonly occur in a wreck, including:
- Compression. The spinal cord does not have to be cut to cause paralysis. If the cord is compressed in the impact of a car accident, the blood supply to the spinal cord can be cut off, slowly killing the nerve cells. Compression can also come as a side effect of another injury, such as swelling or broken vertebrae, that puts pressure on the spinal cord.
- Torsion. Sudden twisting or a violent blow to the spine can also put pressure on the spinal cord. In some cases, the victim’s vertebrae will slip out of position and clamp the spinal cord. This is called subluxation, and must be corrected quickly to avoid damaging the spinal cord.
- Severing. In extreme accident cases, the spinal cord may be severed due to internal injuries or impalement by an object. One the cord has been severed, a patient is likely to experience irreversible paralysis and may even be unable to breathe on his or her own.
Nerve damage isn’t just limited to the spinal cord. Damage to other nerves or nerve bundles in the body can cause pain, tingling, difficulty with movement, and other unusual sensations in a specific body part or region of the body. A common example is damage to the sciatic nerve, which can cause radiating pain in the legs and lower back.
Internal injuries and bleeding
An impact to the chest or torso runs the risk of damaging the lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen, and other major organs of the body. Sometimes, internal injuries are caused directly by the impact, bruising the organs or tissues inside the body cavity. At other times, broken bones or external objects can pierce the organs or cause dangerous internal bleeding. The symptoms of internal bleeding or injury can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the urine
- Low blood pressure
- Dizziness or loss of consciousness
- Painful or difficult breathing
The treatment can vary depending on the severity of the injury and the organs affected, but internal injuries are generally medical emergencies that may involve continuous lab draws, surgery, and long-term medication.
Burns, broken bones, abrasions, and facial injuries
Broken bones, burns, “road rash,” and other physical injuries are very common injuries in car accidents. Drivers and passengers can sustain major facial injuries due to slamming their head into the steering wheel or side of the car, when an airbag deploys or misfires, a window shatters, or they are thrown around with great force - both inside the car and out. They may be exposed to fires, hot liquids, fuel tank explosions, broken glass, and road surfaces.
- Cuts. Many people suffer from both small and large facial cuts from window glass. Deep gashes may require stitches and additional surgeries. Some of these cuts may leave deep scars as permanent reminders of the accident.
- Bruises. Many car crash victims also suffer bruises. This may happen when a person’s glasses get pushed deep into the face, a car rolls over, or objects inside the car fly into a person’s face. Thankfully, many bruises heal on their own without treatment.
- Broken bones. Bone fractures may be seen in the ribs, arms and legs, skull, and virtually any other body part. Some victims suffer a fractured jaw or broken facial bones in car accidents due to slamming their head slams into the steering wheel. These injuries are painful and can lead to long-term disfiguration. Sometimes, a plastic surgeon can restore a victim’s former bone structure. In other cases, the victim remains disfigured.
- Dental injuries. With a strong impact, teeth can be broken, displaced, or loosened. This can be very painful, cause difficulties with eating, and even be embarrassing for the victim. Treatment might include dental surgery or the placement of dental hardware.
While these injuries aren’t always severe or limiting over the long term, the recovery can be very complicated, especially when other injuries are involved. Many victims also suffer extensive scarring or disfigurement from burns, which might require plastic surgery or other therapies to correct.
PTSD, depression, and emotional trauma
Car crashes are often traumatic events, both mentally and physically. Psychological injuries are not uncommon, and many car accident victims suffer from anxiety, depression, lack of sleep, paranoia, or other symptoms after an accident. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is also common. Sometimes, the emotional trauma of the wreck itself is the root of the issue, but car accident victims also can struggle with their mental health while going through a painful physical recovery, coping with disability and limitations, and grieving the losses an accident caused.
Get the help you need after suffering serious injuries in a car or truck accident.
Although all of these kinds of injuries can sometimes cause pain and difficulty for life, the symptoms can take some time to show up after an accident. If you were involved in a car wreck, do not put off seeing a doctor. Just because you were wearing a seat belt or don’t have any external injuries does not mean that the tenderness or pain you feel will go away in a few days. Many car accident injuries do not heal on their own. In fact, many injuries actually become worse over time without appropriate treatment. Getting prompt medical treatment is the best way to get help and encourage a full recovery.
Along with medical treatment, you may also want to seek competent legal advice. You may have the right to recover compensation for medical bills and other losses, but many injured people don’t understand their rights or how to protect them. If you have questions about your legal rights after you’ve been hurt, start getting answers today. Contact our nationally recognized Houston personal injury lawyers for a free, no obligation consultation by calling 877-724-7800, starting a Live Chat, or by filling out the brief form on this page.