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5 Injuries That Aren’t Always Obvious After Car Accidents

Car accidents can cause a wide range of injuries, some of which may not be immediately apparent. Adrenaline and psychological shock accompanying a car accident can mask pain and less obvious symptoms, making some injuries difficult to detect.

Hidden injuries, like internal bleeding and traumatic brain injuries, are particularly dangerous because they may take time to become symptomatic. Delaying medical treatment can lead to serious consequences, such as permanent brain damage or death.

It is vital to know the potential for hidden injuries after a car accident and seek medical attention promptly to ensure your injuries are properly diagnosed and treated.

Why Some Injuries Take Time to Develop Symptoms

Immediately following an accident, your body may undergo a stress reaction, which releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can mask pain and other symptoms from injuries, making them challenging to notice.

Furthermore, many injury victims may be tempted to ignore any pain if they are not visibly injured in the hopes that they will feel better the next morning or in a few days without needing to go to the hospital. However, ignoring potential injuries can be extremely dangerous.

Some injuries are difficult to detect without diagnostic tests. For example, internal injuries such as organ damage or internal bleeding may not be visible from the outside and may require medical imaging or other diagnostic tests to identify.

Common Injuries With Delayed Symptoms

If you have been in a car accident, it is crucial to know what signs to look for so you can seek help for any injuries that may not be visible. Some of the most common hidden injuries include:

Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft tissues refer to muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which can become stretched, torn, or damaged in a collision.

Whiplash, sometimes referred to as a cervical sprain or strain, is a common type of soft tissue injury that can occur from a car accident. A 2020 study reported there are around 841,000 sprain/strain (whiplash) injuries in the U.S. caused by car crashes each year.

Whiplash occurs when the head is jerked forward and backward rapidly, causing damage to the muscles and ligaments in the neck. Whiplash can result in long-term pain, stiffness, and restricted neck movement, but it may not show signs for several days.

Soft tissue injuries can also occur in the back, shoulders, and other body parts. For example, a herniated disc can occur when the discs in the spine become damaged, causing them to bulge or rupture. This can result in pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected area.

Internal Bleeding

Internal bleeding occurs when blood vessels are damaged, causing blood to leak into surrounding tissues or organs. If left untreated, internal bleeding can be life-threatening. In the U.S., hemorrhage due to trauma, or uncontrolled internal bleeding, is the leading cause of death in those under 46.

Car accidents can result in internal bleeding when a sudden impact causes the body to be jolted or twisted, damaging blood vessels. For example, blunt force trauma from striking the dashboard or steering wheel in a crash can cause internal bleeding.

Internal bleeding may not be immediately apparent after a car accident, as symptoms may take time to develop. Common signs of internal bleeding include:

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing
  • Weakness or fatigue

Organ Damage

Organ damage occurs when internal organs, such as the liver, spleen, or kidneys, are injured due to blunt force trauma from the impact of a collision.

Either an external object (such as the steering wheel of the car) or an internal structure of your body (such as the ribcage) can cause damage to internal organs. For example, the impact of a collision may break your ribs, causing them to puncture your lung.

Signs of organ damage include:

  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat or breathing

Spine Injuries

The spine is made up of vertebrae, discs, and nerves, which can be damaged due to the force of the impact. Spine injuries can range from mild to severe and can cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, and even paralysis.

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), 12.3% of cases of traumatic spinal cord injury result in complete tetraplegia—paralysis below the neck—while 19.6% result in complete paraplegia, which is paralysis of the lower half of the body.

During a collision, the impact may injure the spine by damaging the vertebrae or discs or causing them to slip out of place. In more serious circumstances, the spine can be compressed, causing a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention.

Signs of spine injuries include:

  • Pain in the neck or back
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Weakness or paralysis in the extremities
  • Difficulty breathing or coughing
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur when the brain is damaged due to a blow or jolt to the head, resulting in various symptoms and impairments. TBIs can range from mild concussions to severe brain damage and can have long-lasting effects on the individual’s quality of life, including reducing life expectancy by an average of nine years.

TBIs can occur in several ways during a car accident. For example, an object in or outside the car can strike the head, such as the dashboard, steering wheel, or windshield. The brain can also be jolted against the inside of the skull due to the force of the impact, causing brain tissue damage.

Signs of TBI include:

  • Headache or pressure in the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Blurred vision or ringing in the ears
  • Memory loss or difficulty concentrating

Getting Assistance After a Car Accident

If you or a loved one suffers a non-visible injury in a car crash, you may be able to seek financial compensation. A Wisconsin car accident lawyer from Brian Hodgkiss Injury Lawyers can review your medical records to help you prove the crash caused your condition and its impact on your life.

We understand the challenges individuals and families face after a car accident that wasn’t their fault and are committed to providing compassionate and effective legal representation. Our experienced attorneys can help you navigate the complex legal system, protect your rights, and secure the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about how we can help you.

Originally published April 17, 2023. Updated March 8, 2024.

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