A car accident, even with minor injuries, can cause a great deal of trauma to your body. Most people expect to experience soreness for a few days after an accident, even if they did not suffer injuries severe enough to require a trip to the emergency room. When that soreness does appear, however, you want it to go away as soon as possible. How long should you suffer soreness after a car accident? When should you expect a full recovery and the ability to return to normal activity? The answer depends on the extent of your injuries. Read below for more information from the skilled auto accident attorneys at the law offices of Michael T. Gibson.
Average Recovery Time
After a minor fender bender, most people experience mild soreness for a few days to a few weeks. If you saw the accident coming, you might have tensed up, which probably caused more trauma to muscles, tendons, and ligaments than had you not had time to tense up before the collision. Many accident victims struggle with soreness for up to six weeks after a car accident. This includes victims with the following injuries:
- Whiplash. Most common in rear-end collisions, whiplash often hits a day or two after an accident. If you have symptoms of whiplash, you may experience soreness in your neck, shoulders, and arms. Victims of whiplash may also notice some muscle weakness or a tingling sensation in the arms or neck immediately following an accident. Some people also notice increased headaches, including tension headaches, while recovering from whiplash. Most of the time, symptoms of whiplash resolve on their own within a few weeks.
- Muscle soreness. Muscle soreness often occurs as a result of tensing up during a car accident. It may also result from crashing into the seat belt or getting thrown around the car during the accident. Muscle soreness may occur in the back, arms, legs, or abdomen after a car accident. Like whiplash, symptoms of muscle soreness usually resolve within around six weeks. You should notice a marked decrease in pain and suffering within a few short days of your accident. If you notice sharp, stabbing pain or that muscle pain increases, rather than decreasing, you may want to visit a doctor.
- Bruising. In a car accident, you may end up with several bruises. Many car accident victims display impressive bruises from the seat belt, airbags, or items inside the car. You may have bruises on your torso or face as well as on your limbs. Bruising often seems to heal very slowly, especially when you anxiously await the return of your usual appearance. Deep bruises may take longer to heal; however, you should notice significant improvement from bruising experienced during a car accident within about six weeks.
- Sprains and strains. A car accident can cause many sprains and strains to your limbs. The driver of the car often experiences injuries to the hands and arms due to his or her position on the steering wheel at the time of the accident. Any passenger in the vehicle can experience ligament or tendon damage to the limbs. In many cases, these injuries resolve within around six weeks. You may notice some tenderness up to eight weeks after your accident.
Other, more serious injuries may take longer to heal. If you have broken bones, for example, you may need to wear a cast for six to eight weeks to allow the bones to heal. If you need surgery to repair those broken bones, the countdown to recovery may start with the surgery, rather than with the accident itself. Injuries like traumatic brain injury and spinal cord damage may leave you with symptoms that last for the rest of your life. Talk with your doctor about expected recovery time for more serious injuries so that you will have a better idea of the healing process and when you can expect to get back to normal.
When Should You Go Back to the Doctor?
Many people go straight to the emergency room or an urgent care facility from the scene of a car accident. Some people, however, choose to avoid that trip for medical attention, whether because they are worried about the expense or feel that they do not have injuries serious enough to worry about medical treatment. Whether you choose not to seek medical attention at the time of the accident or you did but feel that the doctors might have missed something, seek medical attention immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
- You have any symptoms listed in the paperwork from your doctor. When you check out of the emergency room after an accident, you will often take a set of papers that describes symptoms that might require further medical attention, especially if you have a traumatic brain injury. Pay attention to those symptoms, and if you notice any of them cropping up, go back to the hospital immediately.
- You need a follow-up appointment. Many types of injuries, including broken bones, chest contusions, and sprains and strains, may require a follow-up trip to the doctor. Pay attention to any follow-up requirements. Do not miss those appointments, especially if you plan to file a personal injury claim following your accident. Not only will those visits provide vital documentation that will help you establish the extent of your injuries, but also such visits will help determine whether your recovery is proceeding as predicted or if you need further medical attention to help you make a full recovery.
- You notice signs of confusion or disorientation. If you did not receive a traumatic brain injury diagnosis at the hospital, or if you chose not to visit the hospital at all, pay particular attention to memory difficulties or confusion and disorientation after the accident. These symptoms could indicate that you have a traumatic brain injury. If you notice symptoms worsening, you should visit your doctor immediately.
- Pain does not resolve within six weeks after the accident. Minor soreness and stiffness often occur after a car accident, even one with no serious injuries. If you notice pain and stiffness that fail to resolve more than six weeks after an accident, you should visit a doctor to have your injuries checked over.
- You have pain that does not start to get better after about a week. You may expect some soreness after a car accident, and in many cases, that soreness can linger. If you experience pain that does not at least start to get better within a week of the accident, even if you did not notice pain that required a visit to the doctor at the scene of the accident, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- You experience shortness of breath. If you notice yourself getting short of breath after performing normal activities, make sure you seek medical attention. Chest contusions can cause serious damage to your heart and lungs, and broken ribs could puncture a lung. Seeking medical attention can help ensure that you do not cause further damage to your body.
- You notice dizziness or nausea. You may notice dizziness or nausea after standing for a prolonged time or when standing up quickly. Pay attention to those symptoms, especially if they seem to worsen instead of getting better, as they could indicate a serious medical problem.
- You have questions that a doctor can best answer. Even if you chose not to seek medical attention immediately after the accident, you may have questions throughout the recovery process. In some cases, you might fail to ask questions that need answers while in the emergency room, especially if you did not have time to think them through or if you suffered head trauma. Do not hesitate to contact a doctor if you need answers to your medical questions.
- You suffer sleep disturbances. After a car accident, you may struggle with disturbed sleep, either due to injuries or as a result of mental and emotional trauma following the accident. If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, contact a doctor to learn what measures you can take to improve the quality of your sleep. Healthy sleep makes a big difference in your overall mental health as well as the recovery process.
When Your Injuries Show up Well After the Accident
Some auto accident victims do not have signs of injury at the scene of the accident, but discover in the days and weeks after the accident that they do, in fact, have serious injuries. You might have what you think is a minor case of whiplash, only to discover that symptoms linger, causing you pain that prevents you from returning to work for weeks or months after the accident. You might have walked away from the accident scene, only to discover a broken bone well after the accident. Many people fail to notice serious injuries, including the full extent of injuries from chest contusions, until a day or two after the accident, when swelling occurs and pain sets in.
When your injuries show up well after the accident, you may wonder how to seek compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering related to those injuries. Keep these steps in mind:
- Document your injuries. Even if you think you have fairly minor injuries following a car accident, document your injuries. Make note of any pain, stiffness, or limitations. Take photos of the bruises at various stages of the recovery process. Even if you never need to use that information, it doesn’t hurt to have it, just in case.
- Contact a medical professional as soon as you notice signs of serious injuries. If you notice injuries with greater severity than originally anticipated, or if you notice injuries that you did not notice at the time of the accident, contact a medical professional as soon as possible. You may choose to visit the emergency room or, in many cases, visit an urgent care facility. Most urgent care facilities can take x-rays and conduct other tests to establish the extent of your injuries, which will help document the injuries caused by the accident and how they have the potential to impact you long-term.
- Contact your auto insurance company. In many cases, you will go through your auto insurance company to file your claim or to ask any questions about the accident. You may have already contacted the auto insurance company immediately after the accident, especially if you needed to report a totaled vehicle. Your auto insurance company can provide you with valuable advice about how to proceed, especially if you have fairly minor injuries.
- Amend the accident claim, if you already filed it. If you have already filed an accident claim with the other driver’s insurance company, you need to amend that claim. In some cases, your auto insurance company can help amend that claim for you. In other cases, you may need to communicate directly with the other party’s insurance company to amend that claim. If you have not already filed the accident claim, you can include your injuries as part of the claim from the beginning.
- Contact an attorney, if needed. If you discover that you have serious injuries that need extensive medical attention, it can take your accident claim from a relatively minor transaction that you may handle on your own with relative confidence to a much more complicated claim. Many insurance policies carry higher limits for personal injuries sustained during an auto accident than they do for damage to your vehicle. Typically, the policy also reflects different limits for an injury claim than for a property damage claim. An attorney can help you navigate the claims process, providing you with the advice you need to proceed effectively through the claims process. An attorney can also let you know what information you will need to prove that your injuries occurred during the car accident, even though you did not notice them at the time of the accident.
If you suffered injuries in a car accident, you may need to contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights after an accident.
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