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What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident?

November 10, 2023

Car accidents - an unfortunate reality of modern life - are jarring experiences that leave a lasting impact, both mentally and physically. Whether a minor crash or a severe collision, understanding the potential physical aftermath can help prepare you for the healing journey ahead.

In the following blog, we’re going to take a look at both the immediate and delayed physical effects you might experience after a car accident, while also providing insight into the recovery timeline, medical treatments, and essential legal considerations. Let’s take a look.

Common Immediate Physical Symptoms

Bruises and Cuts

After a car accident, it's not uncommon to sustain visible injuries like bruises and cuts; this generally results from direct contact with the vehicle's interior, broken glass, or external objects. Depending on the severity, some bruises and cuts may require medical treatment to prevent infection or complications.


Whiplash is one of the most frequent injuries associated with rear-end collisions, and occurs when the head is rapidly thrust forward and then snapped back, straining the muscles and ligaments of the neck. Symptoms can include pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. While whiplash is often dismissed as a minor injury, it can lead to long-term discomfort if not treated promptly.


Following a car accident, many individuals experience headaches, and these can typically arise from whiplash, a concussion, or stress. However, persistent or severe headaches should always be evaluated by a medical professional to rule out underlying conditions such as concussions, or a traumatic brain injury.

Chest Pain

The force of a collision can also lead to chest pain, especially if the driver or passenger was wearing a seatbelt, which is, of course, vital for safety. This can manifest as soreness or bruising on the chest, but in some cases, chest pain can also indicate more severe injuries like broken ribs or internal damage.

Possible Delayed Physical Effects

Soft Tissue Injuries

Not all injuries present themselves immediately after an accident: soft tissue injuries, for instance, involve damage to muscles, ligaments, and tendons, with symptoms appearing days after the collision. Symptoms of soft tissue injuries include generalised pain, swelling, and reduced mobility.

Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injuries

A car accident can result in a blow to the head, leading to a concussion or, in more severe cases, traumatic brain injury. Like the other examples above, these conditions might not manifest immediately - but can have serious repercussions if left untreated. Symptoms of concussions and brain injuries can range from headaches and dizziness to cognitive challenges and changes in behaviour - memory loss, feeling sluggish, and sensitivity to light are all key indicators. If you suspect a head injury after an accident, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Internal Injuries

Car collisions can also cause internal injuries, many of which might not be evident right away. Damage to organs, internal bleeding, or fractured bones might not present obvious external symptoms, but might later manifest through abdominal pain, dizziness, or deep purple bruises. When occurring in the hours and days after an accident, these symptoms should be treated as a potential sign of internal injury, and you should seek emergency medical attention.

Back and Neck Pain

Beyond whiplash, car accidents can also cause back and neck pain days or even weeks after the incident. This can be a result of herniated discs, sprains, or other spinal injuries.

Psychological Trauma

Aside from physical symptoms, the aftermath of a car accident can also trigger psychological distress - which can even be included in a car accident insurance claim. This is because some survivors may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression, requiring the help of a professional therapist or mental health professional to be manageable.

If you feel as if your day-to-day life is impacted by stress or anxiety linked to a car accident, it’s a good idea to speak to someone.

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Recovery Timeline

Minor Injuries

Bruises, cuts, and mild soft tissue injuries typically heal within a few weeks, and these injuries rarely cause long-term complications.

Moderate Injuries

Conditions such as whiplash or minor concussions may take several weeks to a few months for full recovery; it's vital to follow medical recommendations closely to prevent lingering issues and ensure full recovery.

Severe Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries, significant internal injuries, and serious fractures may necessitate extended recovery periods, sometimes lasting several months or even years. More serious injuries might require one or more surgeries, regular physical therapy, and continuous medical monitoring via check-ups.

Medical Treatment and Rehabilitation

After a car accident, seeking immediate medical attention is paramount, even if injuries seem minor. Getting a medical assessment not only helps prevent complications and ensures optimal healing, but it can also increase the likelihood of you obtaining any economic damages you’re entitled to. Here’s what to expect:

Initial Assessment

When you go for a medical assessment after a car accident, you’ll likely go through a range of tests to check your cognitive function and search for any internal injuries. These tests can include X-rays, MRIs, and physical examinations carried out by a doctor.

Physical Therapy

If you have ongoing mobility problems, you may end up doing regular physical therapy to help get you moving again.

Mental Health Support

As previously mentioned, the psychological impact of an accident shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to your recovery process. Counselling or therapy can be highly beneficial for those dealing with trauma or anxiety post-accident - and the costs of this can even be covered by economic damages.  

Legal and Insurance Considerations

If you've been in a car accident, you’ll also have to consider the legal and insurance aspects promptly after the incident. Not only do you need to consider documentation and whether or not you’re able to make a no-fault claim, but you’ll also want to cooperate with the other driver; if the other driver is at fault, it’ll be their insurance that pays for any bills, repairs, and damages. Here’s what you need to do:

Document Everything

From medical reports to photographs of the accident scene, maintaining a thorough record can be pivotal when making a claim. You can also collect witness statements and ask local businesses for CCTV footage.

Insurance Claims

Even if you don’t think you’re at fault, it’s important to notify your car insurance provider that you’ve been in an accident. They’ll be able to help you navigate the claims process and offer expert advice and guidance on everything from legal aspects to damages, ensuring you end up getting the best settlement.