What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident | (2023)

Car accidents affect people in different ways. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported 128,420 accidents in 2018. These accidents resulted in over 78,000 injuries. While some people walk away from an accident with nothing more than minor aches and pains, others still suffer chronic pain years after the accident. Because reactions vary from person to person, you need to understand what’s normal and what’s not immediately following an accident. If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Below, we’ll break down how you can expect to feel physically after a car accident.

Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft tissue injuries are some of the most common types of injuries after an accident. Our bones are supported by muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The force of the collision may place stress on your body in ways it was not designed to absorb. This can cause tears or sprains to your muscles and ligaments.

The most common symptom of soft tissue injuries is pain. The pain may be isolated to the point of injury, or it may radiate down your limbs. If you experience radiating pain down your arms or legs, it could be an indication of whiplash or disc damage. If you experience pain that interferes with your day to day activities or lasts more than a few weeks, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. Common treatment for soft tissue injuries, including whiplash and damaged discs, includes:

  • Pain relievers
  • Ice or heat treatment
  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Epidural steroid injections

Traumatic Brain Injuries

The term traumatic brain injury may sound scary, but it is simply a term to describe a brain injury that was caused by an outside trauma, such as a fall or car accident. Traumatic brain injuries are common. In one recent year, nearly three million emergency room visits took place due to traumatic brain injuries. Any time the brain is involved, you need to take your injury seriously. A traumatic brain injury can occur because of a penetrating injury or a blow to the head. If you think you may have hit your head during the accident, seek medical care right away.

Common symptoms of a TBI include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Changes in mood
  • Sleep problems

Seek emergency medical care if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slurred speech
  • A headache that won’t go away
  • Any other unusual symptoms

Spinal Cord Injuries

The scary thing about spinal cord injuries is that you may not begin to experience symptoms right away. In fact, you may feel completely normal for the first few days. The Shepherd Center reports that approximately 17,500 new spinal cord injuries happen every year. Of these, 38 percent are the result of an auto accident. Spinal cord injuries are more common in serious accidents, but they are possible in minor accidents, as well. Like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries happen as the result of a penetrating injury or trauma to the neck or back.

Spinal cord injuries most often result in paralysis. In most cases, the injury is permanent, although some patients regain some movement. Contrary to popular belief, an injured individual can suffer from paralysis without completely severing their spinal cord. A spinal cord injury is an emergency condition; go to the emergency room right away if you experience any of the following:

  • Loss of movement
  • Numbness
  • Extreme pain
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

For a more extensive list, click here.

Broken Bones

What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident | (1)If you have been in a car accident and have broken a bone, you’ll likely know right away. Broken bones or fractures typically cause extreme pain at the site of the injury. They are usually accompanied by bruising and swelling. In the case of an open fracture, the bone will actually stick out from the skin. If you think you may have a broken bone, get medical care right away. If you are not sure whether your bone is broken, you should still get checked out. A doctor can determine whether the bone is broken with a simple x-ray. Putting off treatment can cause permanent damage.

Your doctor may try different treatment protocols depending on the location and severity of your break. Common treatments for broken bones include:

  • A cast to stabilize the bone and prevent further injury.
  • Traction to realign the bones.
  • A brace, which will allow some movement.
  • Pins or screws to hold the bones in place until surgery.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery, it can take several weeks to several months for the break to fully heal. Even after the bone is healed, you may still experience chronic or recurrent pain. In this case, you may have a case for pain and suffering against the at-fault driver.

Mental Health Issues

Society as a whole still has a long way to go when it comes to recognizing and treating mental health issues. It’s far too common for patients (and doctors) to skip over mental health concerns to address the more obvious physical ailments. But anyone who was in a serious accident can tell you that car accidents can cause psychological injuries in addition to physical injuries.

Take these injuries seriously, as they can become worse if left untreated. While the event itself can cause the brain to respond with an emotional response, a traumatic brain injury can also induce mental health issues. Common mental health problems after an accident include:


The World Health Organization defines depression as a “mental disorder, characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy.” These symptoms usually persist for two or more weeks. Individuals may become depressed after a car accident because they feel that there was nothing they could do about the accident. They may feel guilt or grief, especially if the accident resulted in a fatality. It is not uncommon for accident victims to feel depressed if their accidents result in serious injuries that affect their ability to enjoy life.


Anxiety is a common mental health issue that is characterized by persistent worry of fear. After a car accident, a person suffering from anxiety may have difficulty driving again because of the fear of another accident. Anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms, including increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal problems, and headaches. Treatment is available for anxiety and may include cognitive therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder triggered by a traumatic event. While PTSD is commonly associated with military duty, one study found that 38 percent of car accident survivors develop PTSD. Victims may experience flashbacks, nightmares, or difficulty putting the events of the accident behind them. Treatment for PTSD is similar to depression and anxiety and usually involves medication and/or therapy.

Factors That Will Affect the Way You Feel After an Accident

As we mentioned earlier, no two people will respond the same way to an accident. You shouldn’t gauge whether your feelings are normal based on someone else’s experience. If you experience any unusual symptoms, you should always see a doctor. It’s never a good idea to self-diagnose; doing so can prolong symptoms and may make matters worse. Factors that may affect the way you feel after an accident include:

  • Age: As you get older, your body is not able to heal as quickly as when you were younger. Age increases the likelihood and severity of injuries. Additionally, your injuries may take longer to heal, causing prolonged pain.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: Car accidents can aggravate a pre-existing condition. For example, even though the force of the accident wasn’t strong enough to cause a herniated disc, it may aggravate a prior injury.
  • The severity of the accident: Obviously, the severity of an accident is going to affect the likelihood of injury as well as the amount of pain you will feel.

Getting the Care You Deserve

After an accident, you may feel a variety of symptoms. Unfortunately, many people put off the care that they need because they’re afraid of the cost. As an accident victim, you have rights. The law allows you several options when it comes to getting the care you need. These include:

PIP Benefits

What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident | (2)Pennsylvania requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $5,000 in personal injury protection or medical benefits. Because Pennsylvania is a no-fault state, you don’t have to prove fault before using your own PIP benefits. You may have to contact your own insurance provider to get a claim number before the doctor will see you, but doing so does not affect your premium or make any difference when it comes to determining fault. This insurance is legally required for all drivers, so as long as you have insurance, there is no reason not to get treatment if you are in pain.

Your Personal Medical Benefits

If you do not have PIP or you have exhausted your PIP, the law allows you to use your own personal medical benefits. If you have to pay any copays or deductibles, a personal injury claim can help you recover these costs. At the end of the case, your health insurance provider may choose to attempt to recover its costs from the at-fault party’s insurance.

Your Employer

If your car accident happened while you were on the job, you may be able to file a worker’s compensation claim. In some cases, you can file both a workers compensation claim and a personal injury claim. It can be tricky trying to understand the different legal requirements for each type of claim, so it’s always a good idea to talk to an experienced legal professional.

The at-Fault Party

Pennsylvania law allows accident victims to recover damages from the at-fault party. To do this, you must file a claim with the other driver’s insurance. Your attorney will negotiate a fair settlement based on the facts of the case. This process can take several weeks to several months, but it does not mean you have to put off medical care until you reach a settlement. If you have ongoing medical care and have exhausted your PIP, a personal injury attorney can work out an arrangement with your care providers to have payment deferred until the end of the case. In addition to outstanding medical bills, a personal injury claim can help you recover other economic and non-economic costs. These include:

  • Lost wages, including any time missed from work as a result of the accident. If you are unable to return to work, a personal injury attorney can help you fight for future wages.
  • Pain and suffering to compensate you for physical and emotional pain.
  • Loss of enjoyment when you are unable to do things you did before the accident.
  • Loss of companionship if your injuries leave you unable to provide companionship to your immediate family members.
  • Wrongful death to cover the loss of a loved one.

An Experienced Attorney Can Help

Unlike economic costs, it’s difficult to put a price on pain, but that doesn’t make your claim any less valuable. If someone else’s negligence caused you pain, regardless of the severity or duration, you deserve fair and just compensation. Pain can interfere with your life and make it impossible to do even the simplest of tasks. After an accident, the last thing you want to do is negotiate with the insurance company when all you actually want to do is lay in bed and rest. An experienced personal injury attorney can fight for your rights and help you focus on your recovery.


What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident |? ›

Symptoms after a car accident include bleeding, stress disorder, and a loss of consciousness. There may also be difficulty breathing, sweating, disorientation, and nausea. By comparison, the physical effects of a collision include back pain, neck pain, and headaches from the whiplash.

What happens to your body when you get in a car accident? ›

During a car accident, your body is violently shaken resulting in damages and injuries. Some of the most common injuries include broken bones, burns, head and neck trauma, brain injuries, and back and spinal cord trauma.

How long does your body hurt after a car accident? ›

After your car accident, in general, expect soreness to linger for up to six weeks. Normal pain after a car accident usually includes minor soreness. Commonly, car accident victims experience pain in the neck or back.

What are the symptoms of shock after an accident? ›

What Are Shock Symptoms?
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Clammy or cold skin.
  • Pale skin, with blueish or gray lips or fingernails.
  • Irregular heartbeat or chest pain.
  • Quickened or weak pulse.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Rapid breathing.
May 25, 2021

Why does your body hurt the day after a car accident? ›

Because of this reaction, your muscles to be pulled and torn. However, after an accident, the adrenaline coursing through your body can hide the pain and injury until later that day or even several days later. As your muscles relax and the stress of accident goes away, you can experience muscle pain and soreness.

Which body part is hit first in a collision? ›

For people riding on the struck side of the car, severe injuries are most commonly delivered to person's neck, followed by the head, chest, legs, and abdomen/pelvis. For car occupants riding on the non-struck side of the car, head injuries are most common, followed by chest injuries.

What happens to your brain during a car crash? ›

During the impact of an accident, the brain crashes back and forth inside the skull causing bruising, bleeding, and tearing of nerve fibers (Fig. 1). Immediately after the accident the person may be confused, not remember what happened, have blurry vision and dizziness, or lose consciousness.

What helps body aches after a car accident? ›

Five Ways to Deal with Soreness After an Accident
  1. Staying Hydrated. Water is extremely helpful to muscles in general, and even more so when they're healing. ...
  2. Massage Therapy. ...
  3. Physical Therapy. ...
  4. Stretching and Yoga. ...
  5. Getting Enough Rest.
Dec 8, 2020

Is it normal to sleep a lot after a car accident? ›

As mentioned, sleeping after a stressful situation is normal. After the adrenaline and keyed-up feelings leave your body, you may feel exhausted. However, if you feel overly tired for more than a week after the accident or your fatigue seems beyond normal, you should see a doctor.

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