The dynamics of a motor vehicle collision can be described as physics meeting biology—it is complicated, ugly, and hurts. Pain, however, in general, is hard to describe. While being involved in a car accident is universally an overwhelmingly emotionally challenging experience, the following pain is inherently subjective and individual to each accident victim.
We all have different pain experiences and tolerances, but even a minor accident transfers significant pain-causing forces through the body. Trauma from an accident will work its way into the body in the form of pain, and pain is uncomfortable, unwanted, and unpleasant.
There Are Many Ways an Accident Will Cause Pain
Unsecured objects in a car become airborne, glass shatters, airbags deploy, and the chest may slam into the steering wheel. The force of the impact may break bones. Puncture wounds bleed excessively, and the body is sometimes propelled out of the vehicle. In a fall, an accident victim often has no protection which can cause skull fractures and spines injuries. All of the above are painful and frequently life-threatening.
The Types of Pain
Whether due to a motor vehicle collision or a fall, pain after an accident can be sporadic or constant, localized or radiating, tolerable or life-altering—but in all cases, when it started because of someone’s negligence, it may be compensable.
Acute pain alerts the body to an injury. This type of pain can come on suddenly, is intense, and has a specific, treatable cause.
Chronic pain is persistent, is considered a disease, and affects one out of five American adults. Chronic pain is caused by an underlying issue and is often challenging to diagnose.
- Changes in appetite
- Muscle tension
- A lack of energy
It is common for accident victims not to experience pain for days or even weeks following an injury.
So what does the pain feel like?
Those experiencing pain may describe it as:
Whether it is moderate or severe, pain is not normal.
What Happens to the Body During a Collision With Another Vehicle or Object?
Referencing Newton’s laws of motion, if a car travels 65 miles per hour, the occupants (and anything not tied down) will continue moving at 65 miles per hour when the car comes to an abrupt and unexpected stop. Whatever the passengers hit (while moving at 65 miles per hour) and whatever hits them will cause damage to flesh and bones—and at some point, it will hurt.
Many variables exist in a crash that impact the injury’s severity and how much pain it causes.
- The vehicles involved - Larger, heavier cars offer more protection than smaller cars.
- The speed of vehicles - Scientific data tells us the faster the speed, the greater the likelihood of catastrophic injury.
- The type of accident (head-on, rear end, T-bone, side swipe)
- Where in the vehicle the injured person is sitting.
- If the vehicle’s occupants had on seatbelts - Research shows that individuals who are not correctly strapped in suffer greater physical bodily harm than those who are.
- If the airbag deployed.
- The age and health of the victims - Small children and the elderly can suffer more severe injuries than others..
Moment of Impact
Motor vehicle accidents do not just happen—they are caused by something or someone, and almost all of them are preventable. However, what happens upon impact is frequently another story. The vehicle will crumple, bend and twist, and the occupants will have force exerted on their body. For a short time after the impact accident, conscious victims may be disoriented.
Adrenaline and Endorphins
Although the body is vulnerable to injury in an accident, it has a protective mechanism to cope with a stressful situation temporarily. Adrenaline, a hormone stored in the adrenal glands, is released into the bloodstream so the body can reallocate its resources, so to speak.
An accident victim may experience any of the following self-preservation responses:
- A rush of energy
- An increase in the flow of oxygen as the blood vessels dilate
- A strength that can seem to come out of nowhere
- An increase in both heart rate and blood pressure
- Increased awareness
- Hyper-focused vision and hearing
- Decreased sensitivity to pain
Endorphins have a muting effect on pain receptors and help keep stress levels under control—they help us feel good ( or at least better, especially when we need it the most), calm, and in control. While adrenaline and endorphins can help an injured passenger at the crash site, crash victims may not realize they have sustained an injury.
The Body May Go Into Shock
Accident trauma is an unexpected event that is (or is perceived as) life-threatening. Shock is an autonomic physiological or psychological response to trauma.
Physiological shock happens with excessive bleeding, burns, and internal organ damage; symptoms generally include:
- Rapid pulse
- Cold clammy skin
- Feeling faint
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Decrease in urine
- Thirst and dry mouth
- Low blood sugar
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Dilated pupils
Permanent damage, and possibly death, is possible as the body begins to shut down in its attempt to heal. Psychological shock can cause disorientation and confusion.
Additional symptoms to look for include:
- Poor concentration
- Changes in mental status
Injuries That Require Help at the Scene
Incapacitating injuries require immediate medical attention at the scene from first responders. These might include loss of consciousness, severe lacerations, burns, and broken arms or legs.
Additionally, paramedics may treat and transport victims with traumatic amputation, head injuries, back injuries, and chest wall and abdominal trauma. For the most part, accident victims who cannot leave the crash site without assistance should receive treatment at the scene.
Symptoms to Look for After a Car Accident
Not all injuries from accidents are immediately apparent. These delayed symptoms can take days or weeks to develop.
Common delayed symptoms after a fall or car accident may include:
- Visual disturbances
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Behavioral changes
- Memory issues
- Problems concentrating
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Sleep disturbances
- Limited range of motion
- Back pain
- Emotional issues and stress
“Stress affects all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.”—American Psychological Association
Common Injuries Associated With Delayed Symptoms
Whiplash is damage to the muscles and ligaments in the neck associated with a high-impact injury and is generally self-limiting within a few weeks. Often it happens after a car accident involving a rear-end collision, but it may also happen after a fall or sports-related accident. The pain associated with whiplash can last for years and may present a lifetime of symptoms.
Accident victims diagnosed with whiplash may experience:
- Chronic pain in the neck and shoulders, and back
- Hearing problems
- Jaw pain
- Numbness in the extremities
- Visual disturbances
- Memory issues and problems concentrating
Head and brain injuries
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause cognitive problems, mobility issues, and speech impediments and may lead to permanent disability.
People suffering from a traumatic brain injury may find themselves dealing with:
- Mood changes
- Lack of energy
- Chronic fatigue
Chest pain and organ damage
Chest pain is frequently the result of trauma caused by seat belt restraints. Bruises and rib fractures are painful and may result in internal organ damage and cardiac problems.
Spine injuries, such as herniated discs
Back pain following a motor vehicle collision, fall, or bicycle accident may be the result of:
- Soft tissue damage
- Herniated disks
- Spinal cord injury
No matter the cause, back pain can restrict mobility and impact daily activities, including the ability to work. Severe spinal cord injuries can leave an accident victim who uses a wheelchair dependent on others. The long-term effects of a spinal cord injury can include incontinence, bladder infections, sexual dysfunction, pressure sores, and muscle spasms.
A blow to the head can cause a concussion and frequently presents after a fall or motor vehicle accident. An accident victim with a concussion may be unable to recall the events leading up to the incident. They may seem dizzy, forgetful, uncoordinated, or clumsy and have personality changes.
Additional symptoms can include:
- Emotional changes
- Pain at the base of the skull
- Nausea and vomiting
Stress affects every bodily system, and a traumatic accident is a major stressful life event. In times of stress, muscles tense up, breathing becomes rapid, blood pressure increases, blood glucose levels rise, and the gastrointestinal system rebels.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition affecting the arms and legs following an injury. CRPS can be extremely painful and hard to treat.
“In more than 90 percent of cases, CRPS is triggered by nerve trauma or injury to the affected limb.—National Institute of Health
Symptoms that may indicate Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome include:
- Spontaneous, Intense, throbbing pain in an arm, leg, hand, or foot
- Extreme sensitivity to touch in the affected limb
- Pins and needles sensation
- Temperature sensitivity
- Temperature changes in the affected area
- Changes in skin color or texture
- Changes in hair and nail growth in the affected area
- Profuse sweating
- Joint stiffness
- Impaired muscle strength
- Limited mobility of the affected area
Post-traumatic stress disorder
“Individuals who experience a serious motor vehicle accident (MVA) are at increased risk for psychological problems, particularly Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.”—National Center for Biotechnology Information
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that often results in trauma victims reliving the accident events and stress repeatedly. Often the symptoms are severe and leave victims unable to function daily.
Some issues an accident victim with PTSD may experience include:
- Fear of getting back into a car after a car accident
- Distressing dreams
- Intrusive thoughts
- Self-imposed social isolation
- Sleep disturbances
- Suicidal thoughts
- Physical symptoms of pain, sweating, and nausea
- Difficulty concentrating
- Inability to express affection
- Lack of trust
The Importance of Prompt Medical Care After an Accident
Waiting too long to seek medical attention after an accident jeopardizes the victim’s health and may prevent the injured person’s ability to receive full and fair financial compensation from the negligent party.
Delayed pain from accident injuries is common, and adrenaline may mask injuries that need attention. The sooner a crash victim sees a physician, the better the chance injuries are caught and treated. Even minor accidents can cause serious injuries.
When it comes to filing a claim for reimbursement, having documented evidence of examinations, tests, and treatments can become valuable evidence of how pain changes life, not only for the injured person but for their family unit.
Hospital and medical records help to substantiate and validate:
- The nature and severity of the injury
- The amount of pain involved due to the accident
- The length and details of past treatments
- The anticipated or projected medical costs
- The prognosis for recovery
Pain is often a symptom of a larger issue after an accident and should not be ignored. If you were in an accident that caused noticeable pain, you may deserve compensation. For more information about financial recovery from accidents caused by others negligence, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for your free case evaluation.