Identifying and Minimizing “Hidden” Injuries After a Car Accident

The timely discovery and treatment of her “hidden” injury likely shaved months off her recovery time.

Injuries from car collisions are very common—and they can be difficult. People don’t always know what hurts right after a collision. That is because it can take hours, days, even weeks or months for an injury to fully present itself and cause debilitating pain.
Patients who come into our office after a collision, are usually pretty shaken up. It’s important to know that you have already made a positive step toward your recovery by coming in right away. Early treatment improves your chances at a fast and full recovery.
Take this scenario*: “Shelly” is a teenage girl; she came in with her mother after being in a car collision. Shelly was very upset with the dark bruises on her head and around her neck that were caused by the crash. Her high school prom was a month away and she worried that she would look like “Frankenstein,” be embarrassed and repulse her date. I explained to Shelly and her mother that the bruises (also known as contusions) were signs of a tissue injury caused by the impact of her car’s airbag hitting her head and face. It caused blood vessels to break and blood to collect between Shelly’s skin and muscle. I assured Shelly that the bruising would change colors ranging from purple and red to yellow (not as pretty as it sounds), but that it was part of the healing process and she would not look like Frankenstein by prom.
What Shelly didn’t realize at the time was that she had a more serious injury. Unlike the bruises, she couldn’t see the whiplash caused by the motor vehicle collision. Whiplash is an injury to neck muscles or ligaments caused by the sudden and rapid forward and backward motion of the neck.

Sometimes a person feels the symptoms of whiplash right away—headache, dizziness, loss of range of motion in the neck, shoulder, and back—but often these symptoms are delayed, and people may only notice minor stiffness. So, they wait and hope the pain will go away with time, not realizing that if left untreated, the effects can worsen over time. Some people end up with chronic back pain, neck pain, or headaches. 

Again, it’s a good thing Shelly’s mom brought her in for care. Through an examination and diagnostic tests, I determined that Shelly had strained her neck muscles and we began her treatment. The timely discovery and treatment of her “hidden” injury likely shaved months off her recovery time. And I’m happy to report that when prom arrived Shelly felt great and she did not look or walk, anything like Frankenstein.

* This is a fictional account combining several cases. No identifying details are included.  

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