Americans spend more than 1 million days in the hospital each year from crash injuries. On average, each crash-related ED visit costs about $3,300 and each hospitalization costs about $57,000 over a person’s lifetime.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), car accidents are a leading cause of injury in the United States , totaling over $18 billion in lifetime medical costs for Americans. Injuries tend to be either highly visible, such as open wounds and broken bones, or invisible, such as a concussion or whiplash.
Injuries caused by car accidents can be grouped into two main categories: impact injuries and penetrating injuries. Impact injuries result from blunt trauma, such as your head hitting the steering wheel or side window. Penetrating injuries most often occur due to shattered glass or other loose objects flying in the vehicle at the time of collision. Each of these types of injuries can cause serious disability, distress, and disfigurement depending on the area of the body affected and the circumstances of the crash.
Whiplash & Neck Strain
A common outcome in rear-end crashes, whiplash is a neck injury resulting from a sudden back-and-forth movement of the head. The symptoms of whiplash neck pain, stiffness, headaches, upper back pain, dizziness, fatigue, and tinnitus are not always immediately apparent, so it’s important to undergo medical evaluation after an accident, even if you feel fine.
Car accidents are a leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI), or sudden damage to the brain resulting from a jolt or blow to the head. Concussions, one of the most common forms of TBI, may lead to symptoms such as confusion, headache, temporary loss of consciousness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Survivors of TBI often must cope with long-term effects such as impaired thinking, sensation, and movement.
While whiplash affects the neck and shoulders, musculoskeletal injuries can happen to muscles, ligaments, tendons or nerves anywhere in your body that were stretched, compressed or bent during an accident.
Head injuries in accidents can range from mild to severe depending on the individual and head placement. While some head injuries are minor, some can be life threatening and should never be taken lightly.
For example, in a minor crash, impact with a window or steering wheel can cause a simple injury resulting in little more than a bump or bruise. However, a severe collision or the car flipping upside down can result in serious concussions or brain tissue damage Head injuries can be hard to diagnose at first. They may just feel like a mild headache. That said, anytime you suspect a head injury you should always get a full medical evaluation to rule out any potential problems.
Concussion can also result from your head being thrown back and forth. It’s a serious injury that can occur even if your head doesn’t make physical contact with anything. You may see signs right away, such as headache, head pressure, temporary loss of consciousness, seeing stars, dizziness, or ringing of the ears, but it may take a few hours for symptoms to appear. Concussions can be significant, so if you’re having difficulty with concentration, memory, or focus , see a doctor for a neurological evaluation.
A broken bone happens when the physical force applied to the bone carries more strength than the actual bone. Simple bone fractures refer to the bone breakage without open wounds. Compound fractures, on the other hand, penetrate through the skin.If you have a broken bone, you probably know it. You won’t be able to move the body part (or it will be extremely painful to do so). A doctor should be able to provide a quick evaluation and diagnosis.
Back injuries, particularly spinal cord injuries , are common after serious car accidents. Severe damage may result in body paralysis. However, milder damage can result in issues like herniated disks.
Like head injuries, back injuries are not always obvious. However, it is essential to receive a thorough screening after your accident.
Patients may experience reduced sensation of and control over their arms, hands, legs, feet, and other body parts, while more serious forms of spinal damage can leave patients permanently paralyzed.
A herniated disc is a spinal injury that can cause intense pain. Spinal discs are located in between each vertebrae in your spine. When you experience trauma as a result of a car crash, these discs can rupture or shift, and hit the spinal column. The injury resulting from hitting the nerve is called a herniated disc, and the more pressure it puts on the nerve, the more pain you could be in.
Pain from a herniated disc can radiate through the body, and the source of the pain all depends on which disc is experiencing the trauma.
Chest injuries are also a common result of a car accident. These injuries typically take the form of contusions or bruises, but can be more severe, such as broken ribs or internal injuries. Drivers often experience chest injuries because of their position behind the steering wheel, which allows very little freedom of movement before the chest collides with the steering wheel. If a person’s body is thrown forward in a collision, even though it might not impact the steering wheel or dashboard, the chest area will still experience a high level of force against the shoulder harness or seat belt, which can cause severe bruising.
Physical injuries can be immediately obvious, but emotional injuries that stem from a car accident are just as important and deserve the same professional treatment. There are some common emotional reactions to an accident caused by the release, and subsequent withdrawal, of adrenaline, such as anxiety or depression, but they should disappear within a short time. If you’re still feeling anxious, experiencing the accident over and over, or avoiding the area where the crash happened after a few weeks, you should contact a doctor that specializes in car accident injuries and trauma.
Why Medical Attention is So Important
Your injury may seem minor, or your pain or symptoms may have started a little while after the crash, and you might think your pain will just go away on its own.
Many of the injuries we see after car accidents aren’t immediately apparent after the collision. It may take days for your neck or back to start to hurt, even though the damage was caused by the collision. And if not treated, many types of injuries will just get worse and cause other problems for you.
You could find that something that starts as a twinge in your back becomes a pain that radiates down your arm or leg and affects your range of motion and ability to perform everyday tasks. Or you could find that a chronic headache you thought was just stress actually is a symptom of a brain injury caused by the impact of the collision.
For your own health and well-being, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as you start to experience symptoms. But it’s also important so you can make a claim to get your medical costs paid. Some injuries don’t show up on x-rays, and if you didn’t immediately seek medical attention, insurance companies will dispute your claim even though your pain and suffering are very real.