Car Accident Injuries – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Pictures, Prevention

Head and Brain Injuries

Hitting the windshield or falling out from the car, when not being harnessed with a safety belt, are main reasons for head injuries in car accidents.

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Apart from unconsciousness, head pain, bleeding and visible head deformities, the following symptoms may speak for a head or brain injury:

  • Tenderness or instability of head bones upon pressing
  • Painful mouth opening (temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain)
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Pupils of unequal diameter, or excessively wide or narrow
  • Nosebleeds or clear liquid (liquor) leaking from the nose
  • Impaired vision, hearing, smelling or unusual sensations in any body part
  • Weak or paralysed limbs

Retinal Detachment

One common car accident injury that often remains unnoticed until becoming severe, is retinal detachment. Suddenly appearing blurred vision and flashes, floaters and “curtains” in your visual field are most obvious symptoms. Blurred vision after a car accident is an emergency; retinal detachment should be surgically treated promptly to prevent permanent vision loss.

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In most cases, neurological examination performed by a neurologist, and X-ray, CT or MRI of the head are required to determine exact organs damage in a car accident.

FIRST AID: Any unconscious person involved in a car accident should be checked for “ABC”: are airways free (by looking into the mouth, is breathing present (by closing the face to victim’s nose), is circulation active (by checking the pulse of the carotid artery on the neck)? If a victim breathes and has a palpable pulse, he should be put in the “recovery position” (Picture 1).

Recovery positionPicture 1. Recovery position
(source: Wikimedia)

Whiplash

Whiplash is a neck pain from strain of the neck muscles, tendons or ligaments, occurring when the neck moves beyond its normal range of motion (flexion-extension injury). An usual cause is a front or rear impact car accident, especially when the car sit has no head rest or this is positioned low.

NOTE: Whiplash may be accompanied with concussion, which is commonly overlooked. Anyone having headache after neck injury should be examined by a doctor.

Back Muscles, Spine and Spinal Cord Injuries

When back muscles, tendons or ligaments are strained, but the spine and spinal cord remain intact, an accident victim may experience back pain, which may resemble pain from a disc injury (see below).

Cartilaginous disc(s) lying between spinal vertebra may bulge, herniate or slip during a back injury and pinch one or more spinal nerves. This may result in a back pain and pain, numbness or tingling in one or both arms or legs.

One or more vertebra (spinal bones) may be broken or cracked without spinal cord being injured. Symptoms may vary from no pain to back pain or pain and tingling in limbs.

Spinal cord or one or more roots of spinal nerves may be compressed or partially or completely cut. Complete spinal cord cut results in loss of sensations and inability to move any body part below the level of the cut; the cut in the neck will affect trunk and all four limbs and the cut in the lower back will affect body below the waistline.

FIRST AID: When a conscious injured person does not feel any sensations in legs when touched or can not move legs, then spinal cord injury is highly suspected. In this case, four persons have to lift the victim and put him carefully on the firm board and then into an ambulance car. Any unconscious persons involved in a car accident should be treated like they possibly have a spinal cord injury until proved otherwise.

CT or MRI of the spine is usually required to diagnose injury of the spine or spinal cord.

Injuries of Ribs and Internal Organs

Steering wheel or other hard object hitting the chest or stomach may result in:

  1. Broken ribs causing rib pain, or instability when pressed upon ribs or during breathing, coughing or moving.
  2. Pneumothorax (Greek pneumo = air; thorax= chest). When a lung membrane covering the inside of the chest wall is punctured (in car accidents mostly by a broken rib) the lung collapses and the air fills the affected half of the chest cavity. This is called pneumothorax, which does not necessary cause any additional pain or breathing problems, so it can be easily overlooked and is often discovered only when X-ray of the chest is done. Pneumothorax affecting both lung wings at the same time is usually deadly, though.
  3. Splenic rupture. A strong blow to the left flank may result in a rupture of the spleen. Severe internal bleeding may follow and urgent spleen removal is usually required.
  4. Rupture of abdominal aorta. When the stomach is severely compressed, aorta may rupture, and death follows in few minutes in most cases.
  5. Kidneys, liver and other internal organs may be also injured and cause internal bleeding.

Symptoms of internal bleeding are: abdominal pain, paleness, fatigue, thirst, feeling cold, lightheadedness.

Injury of Bones and Joints

  1. Broken arms and legs, and injured shoulders, knees and ankles are common car accident injuries.
  2. Foot or ankle is often injured by break pedals.

Prevention of Car Accident Injuries

The following may greatly reduce the possibility of injuries in car accidents:

  1. Not driving fast in a dense traffic
  2. Not driving under influence of alcohol, drugs or certain medications
  3. Not using a mobile or smoking during driving
  4. Using sunglasses in sunny weather
  5. Replacing worn out tires and breaks
  6. Using automatic safety belt that grabs immediately after your trunk starts to move forward quickly
  7. Headrest, adjusted to support the most prominent part of the back of the head
  8. Using a type of automobile, known by its safety
About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
Health writer
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  • dania

    I was struck by a truck a few years ago when it jumped an intersection, but was sent home with a sling for my fractured collarbone.

    I strongly feel for this part:
    Broken ribs causing rib pain, or instability when pressed upon ribs or during breathing, coughing or moving.

    Is there any medical treatment to solve that problem?

  • Jan Modric

    dania,

    an orthopedist should examine you and tell what needs to be done.

  • olipah

    l was involved in a car accident when a car l was travelling in had the brakes failed l was taken to hospital but discharged the same day with only painkillers ,but now l have severe chest pains ,whenever l sneeze or sleep by my side squeezing my chest ,l had this accident in augaust 2009

  • Jan Modric

    olipah,

    I recommend you to see a doctor, who can examine you and decide if you need some imaging investigation.

  • Pingback: Pinched Neck Nerve - Cervical Radiculopathy, Compression | Healthhype.com()

  • stynaw

    I was in an accident 8 days ago. I was struck from behind in my civic coupe by a Chevy Tahoe. I went to the hospital with neck/bacl pain and a headache. i was sent home with pain killers. I am still in pain in my neck area. My back gets shooting pains, and I often find I get dizzy and feel nauseous. Do i have some additional kind of injury I should worry about?

  • Jan Modric

    stynaw,

    I recommend you to visit an orthopedist or neurologist, who can decide if you need any additional investigation. It’s possible you’ve had a whiplash injury or injury of disca in the cervical spine, for example.

  • melanie

    Was involved in a two car accident 10-6-10. Traffic was heavy, 6 cars going South about 1/2 car between each car. 77Ford Courier (little) Truck was in front of me turned right immediatly. I rearended him at (we were all goint 45 that’s the speed limit). I bumped into him hard then I turned out to the fields, I couldn’t turn left would have had a headon.. Taken by ambulance to hospital x-rayed Neck & chest found nothing. First 2 days after incident estreme neck pain. Third day, awakened at 6am with sharpest pain ever thought I was having a heart attack. From then on it hurts severely to breathe, cough, lift anything with right hand….Nurse friend said I could have bruised the sternum. What should I expect. When I cough my right breast feels like a knife is going through it.. I am on Ultram 50mgx2 every 6 hours but it hurts even during sleep, getting dressed, doing daily routine…. Please tell me what to do…Been wearing a tight sports bra.???????

  • Jan Modric

    melanie,

    one possible cause is a pneumothorax of your right lung. A doctor can find out this easily by just listening your breathing with a stethoscope. There could be a broken rib or sternum. An X-ray can reveal this.

  • Cindy Lawson

    A boy ran a stop sign and we were pulling a 20 ft trailer down a hill. hit him broad side in drivers side. I was not restrained. Hit at 50 mph. My head went into the windshied and left a indention on fore head. No broken bones. Since I can not move without shortness of breath, hard to breath, feels like heart and chest pressure all the time. Can’t even wear a bra. Did not have any of this till the wreck. dizzeness, fatigue, Pains around heart all time. Uncomfortable. What do we look for?

  • Jan Modric

    Cindy Lawson,

    a doctor should check your heart and lungs at least, and, if not already, an X-ray of the chest should be done. Theoretically, pneumothorax (collapsed lung on one side) could occur without any broken bones. A fluid or blood effusion into the pleural space (between the lung and chest) or in the heart sac (pericardium). A blood test showing anemia would speak for internal bleeding. In short, please visit a doctor again, and do not expect to get the exact answer online.

  • Sharyll Lee Nashookpuk

    I was in a car/semi accident on the 6th of Sept, I was cleared at the Hope Hospital in Canada for neck and spine injuries but, I am having lower right ab pain, I don’t live near a hospital only a clinic with healthaides. I have gone in to be seen and was told I am fine and that it will go away. I have not had an ultra sound done because it needs to be authorized by a doc. and we are no where near a good hosp either, should I be worried if this pain is still here 24 days later??

  • Hi Sharyll. Yes, it is a cause for concern if the abdominal pain only started after the accident and has persisted for such a long period of time. The health worker who dealt with you is correct that abdominal pain is a common consequence after a car accident, similar to chest pain.

    Often it is just muscular in nature with some soft tissue injury and does clear up anywhere from a few days to a week or two at most. However, it is important that an ultrasound and other diagnostic investigations were done at the time of the accident to exclude more serious conditions.

    You need to see a doctor ASAP and undergo the recommended diagnostic investigations. Do not delay. Hopefully it is nothing serious but at this point you have to be cautious due to the persisting pain.

  • Nazreen

    Hello, I got in an accident on Wednesday 15th October where a truck slammed into the back of our vehicle while we were at a halt. Our vehicle collided with another vehicle. The two vehicle compressed ours in the middle. On impact I had a sharp internal pain in my tummy area. I was taken to the hospital, where they did an x ray and ruled out broken bones. I was diagnosed with soft tissue injury. Two days later i am finding it extremly difficult to move around my neck and when I cough it hurts alot in my tummy and chest area. Should I be worried about this?

  • Hi Nazreen. Pain is not uncommon even days after an accident like the one you experienced. This can be due to soft tissue injury. Sometimes the pain is not as severe at the outset but gradually worsens over a few days thereafter. However, you should not leave it unattended. It is possible that an underlying problem may not have been detected at the initial assessment. Speak to your doctor about it and further tests may be necessary.

  • Vijay Bhushan

    our tata safari vehicle collied with lorry and stuck with it and drag by lorry upto 50 metre. i feel back pain & i came home directely by bus. after takeing the warm water pad i feel relex . can any other requirent require

  • Hi Vijay. See a doctor immediately. You should have gone through to the hospital ER after the accident. While your injuries may not seem very severe externally, you cannot be sure the degree of internal injuries. Please do not waste time and speak to a doctor. You may need further investigations like an x-ray as well.

  • Nina

    I was in an accident a week ago. Didnt go to hospital. I hit the car in front of me traveling about 25 mph. All my airbags were released. I had my seatbelt on. I was just achy this past week however the last several days I now feel like I have something in my lower eyelids. Should I be concerned.

  • Angels of Mercy

    I had went to a chiropractor and he sent me for a x-ray of my lumbar spine. In that x-ray I had a L4 fracture. I had 2 adjustments and was fine. two months later my daughter and I were hit from behind at a red light and pushe into the car in front of us and that car was pushed into the back of the one in front of him. I was knocked out and both of us were taken to ER. The x-ray at the ER showed a L5 endplate deformity an a L2 deformity. What are these deformities and why di they not show up on the x-ray 2 months before? My daughter had a lumbar tear and herniated disk.

  • Hi Nina. Yes, you should be. You should ALWAYS seek medical attention after a car injury even if it was slower than what you were traveling at this time. The fact that your airbags inflated indicates that the impact was significant. You may have felt find immediately after the accident and even for days thereafter but various injuries could have occurred that are not always immediately evident. Please see a doctor as soon as possible.

  • Hi Angels. You need to see an orthopedist (orthopedic specialist) and discuss these concerns. There may be more to your case than meets the eye. Whether your current bone problems are related to the accident or not is something that has to be looked at as well as your past medical history. We cannot say with any certainty as we are not aware of the different aspects of your case.

  • Marissa De Guzman

    We experienced accident a weeks ago my grandmonther was the only one grave she’s now dead but i was wondering what is the main reason why the hospital didn’t do something to her just an medication, i’ll describe the situation of my grandma her 2fingers were cut off her back was extremely violet and she said it hurts so much also there was a bleeding inside her stomach the doctors just said that they can’t open the stomach and unable to operate because her blood pressure was unstable or not normal. That’s why we wait until my grandma died. 🙁 can you please give me some comments or advice or information about my grandma’s situation. 🙁 please.. Thank you so much by the way i am Maricris Bautista. 🙂

  • HI Marissa. There may be more to the situation than what you have been told or are disclosing here so it would be irresponsible of us to comment on this case specifically. You should sit down with the doctors in charge of her case or the hospital administrator and discuss your concerns. In general though, there are times when performing surgery may be too risky. People who are very old, in poor health, have certain diseases like uncontrolled diabetes, very high blood pressure and so on, are not good candidates for surgery. It can at times be a catch 22 situation. The injury may be potentially life-threatening but doing surgery is equally dangerous. If there is some non-surgical option, then the doctor may make the decision not to risk the patient’s life by performing surgery but there is no guarantee that the non-surgical option will definitely work. Similarly there is no guarantee that the surgery will definitely prevent death. Avoiding the surgery may be the best option at the time for the specific case. We are not saying that this is the case in your grandmother’s situation but just speaking generally.

  • Sharon Huang

    Hi, my friend just got into an accident last night and they didn’t get hurt badly, one hit her head hard and one, her arm hurts a little, but what I want to ask is that my friend that has a arm pain, I think she got a rash or something swelling up and it’s sorta light red/pink , the car hit on her side and it may of did something to her arm to cause that, do you think it’s the crash that did it?

  • Sharon Huang

    Hi, my friend just got into an accident last night and they didn’t get hurt badly, one hit her head hard and one, her arm hurts a little, but what I want to ask is that my friend that has a arm pain, I think she got a rash or something swelling up and it’s sorta light red/pink , the car hit on her side and it may of did something to her arm to cause that, do you think it’s the crash that did it?

  • Hi Sharon. Hopefully your friends did go through to the ER and have been medically assessed after the accident, irrespective of how minor the crash may have seemed. From what you are describing this could be a seat belt injury or related to the injuries that occurred during the accident. It is difficult to say and they should both seek medical attention to ensure that it is nothing serious.

  • kim

    it been 2 weeks since my car wreck i was treated for head injury boken hand brusied ribs, hip, severe sprian in ankle but ever since wreck i have had drianage from my nose mixed with blood always sleepy and stiff neck and head aches is there something else i need to be treated r is this normal recovery

  • mack

    I got hit from behind a couple of days ago, at first I felt ok but I am sore in my shoulders and back, I have had tendinitis in my shoulders for a bit so I’m not sure how to proceed. Any ideas?

  • Hi Mack. It is important to consult with a doctor immediately after an accident, even if you do not have any pain or injury and feel well. The “aches and pains” of your injuries may only become evident hours or days later. This could be more than just tendinitis and you should see your doctor as soon as possible. An x-ray may be necessary or even other investigations. You may also need physical therapy for a short period of time. Try not to self-medicate, have a massage or try any other techniques at home until you have been properly assessed by a doctor. You could make matters worse.

  • Shelby Culp

    So I was in a car wreck a couple of months ago, and I hurt my ankle very bad.. Well, I didn’t get tested for any other injuries, but since the wreck I have been nauseous & very constipated. like I barely go at all. I can go weeks on end without going. a doctor prescribed me medicine and it helped at first a little but now it’s not working at all. I’m only 16, I just feel as no body is gonna listen to my opinion. I don’t have any back pain but occasional stomach cramps but no doctors can find anything wrong. I have had everything done but a ct or a full body xray. I feel like nobody believes me. but could it be related to my back and I not feel any pain at all, or what?

  • HI Shelby. It could be related to your back but it is difficult to say so for sure. Various scans would show an abnormality like compression of nerves that are responsible for the defecation reflex. You may want to consult with an orthopedic or neurologist to confirm whether this could be cause. It could also be related to psychological stress related to the accident. You may also want to read up on post-concussion syndrome although constipation is not documented as a possible symptom. However, you should not detract from the symptoms at hand by focusing only on your car accident. These symptoms could very well be related to some entirely different condition that may have just started up.

  • Leslie

    I was rear ended at a stoplight about 3 months ago by a drunk driver that didn’t even try to hit his brakes. Suffered severe whiplash in my neck and lower back, sprang both wrists, hyper extended both thumb and broke scafiod on one. I have had a nerve study done, and showed nerves in my hand are reactive…but still have swelling and numbness. Also experiencing upper/ mid abdominal pain on my right side. It comes and goes….. mainly worse when I get up in the mornings. Bowels have been different since as well.

  • Hi Leslie. While your injuries may not be considered serious in the context of being life-threatening, the symptoms you continue to experience does seem to be severe. Assuming that all of these symptoms are a result of the accident and not some pre-existing conditions, especially the change in bowel habit, you need to consult with a neurologist on an ongoing basis. This may also require regular visits with a physical therapist. Follow their advice closely. Three months is quite a long time and if these conditions are not appropriately and speedily treated, it could cause discomfort and debility for years, decades or even for life. Do not hesitate to get a second opinion if you are not satisfied with your current treatment.

  • Leslie

    I have been getting treatment from a chiropractor and massage therapist. And yes, I still have knots in my neck and now have tmj. My lower back, hip….. siatic nerve gets crazy and there are days that I have a visible limp when walking. I know people say don’t brace…. well that is better said than done. I held the brake as well as the steering wheel. I went to my doctor yesterday. I’m scheduled to have an ultrasound on my abdomin this week…. where the seat belt came across. The impact totaled my full size van, bent the frame and buckled the floor right behind my seat.

  • Edita peery

    I was in a car accident eight days ago i am still having pain on my left side under my rib cage

  • Hi Edita. Whenever in a collision, no matter how minor, it is important to have a medical check up by a doctor. The pain that you are experiencing could occur for many reasons from chest wall injury, to a fracture rib and even an injured spleen. The only way to know for sure is to see a doctor and undergo necessary diagnostic investigations like an x-ray. Your doctor will advise you accordingly.

  • Rizabel

    Hi, I got into a car accident where someone had rear ended me.

    I was ok, but 2 days later, I’m experiencing really bad lower back and abdominal pain. I am having trouble sleeping and can’t seem to sit n and/or drive longer than 15mins without it being so painful.

  • alex

    Hitting the brakes was a very bad idea