Doctor examining a broken arm

Watch Out! 4 Kinds of Pain After a Car Accident!

Car accidents come out of nowhere and, at minimum, leave survivors feeling shocked and disoriented. One moment you’re lip-syncing along with the latest jam, the next…BOOM! Hopefully, the collision is minor and no one is hurt. If injuries are obvious, always call 911 immediately. Some injuries can present days or even months after an auto accident. The accident survivor may even undergo a cursory examination at the accident scene. While the ostensibly uninjured person may experience profound relief at surviving, their real drama of car accident pain (sometimes chronic pain) may still lie ahead.

Common types of post-accident pain symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Back pain
  • Neck soreness/pain
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bruising and discoloration
  • Swelling and stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes (light sensitivity)
  • Difficulty focusing/remembering things
  • Knee pain
  • Behavioral changes
  • Trouble sleeping

Be on the lookout for these symptoms after an auto accident – especially if you’re experiencing more than one simultaneously. They are evidence that will direct your doctor to order medical and mental health services. In many ways, the delayed onset of symptoms can be as life-changing as experiencing the accident a second time.

The four primary types of pain and what they may indicate are explained below. Should you experience ANY types of post-accident pain, contact your doctor immediately. You will see by the seriousness of the possible diagnoses cannot be overstated.

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1. Headaches

Whatever type of headache you’re experiencing after an accident, you should see your doctor immediately. It could be the symptom of a head injury. Here are some common types of head injuries resulting from a motor vehicle accident and their symptoms:


A concussion is a “minor” traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Symptoms are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance, and coordination. Some concussions cause you to lose consciousness, but most do not.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

After particularly horrible auto accidents, it’s not uncommon for people to experience some level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These can range from headaches to feelings of uneasiness to panic attacks and even the fear of getting back into a car. It’s important to manage any mental and/or behavioral symptoms of PTSD because they can also indicate a traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

There is no single test to diagnose a TBI. There is a constellation of symptoms physicians use to make a diagnosis – headaches being the most obvious. This is why it’s so important to see a doctor after any bump on the head.

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) may affect your brain cells temporarily.

More serious traumatic brain injuries can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding, and other physical damage to the brain. Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries can include any of the signs and symptoms of mild injury, as well as these symptoms that may appear within the first hours to days after a head injury:

Physical Symptoms of a TBI:

  • Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
  • Persistent headache or headache that worsens
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
  • Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
  • Inability to awaken from sleep
  • Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
  • Loss of coordination

Cognitive or Mental Symptoms:

  • Profound confusion
  • Agitation, combativeness, or other unusual behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness

2. Neck Pain

Called whiplash for the forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip, this injury is common, especially when the injured person’s vehicle is struck from behind.

Symptoms of whiplash usually develop within days of the injury, and may include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Worsening of pain with neck movement
  • Loss of range of motion in the neck
  • Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull
  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

Some people also experience:

  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Depression

3. Back Injuries

After whiplash, more people complain about back pain after a car accident than any other injury. These are usually caused by a herniated disk, which can occur in any part of the spine and can irritate nearby nerves causing pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg. Most herniated disks occur in the lower back, although they’re also found in the neck. Signs and symptoms depend on where the disk is situated and whether the disk is pressing on a nerve. They usually affect only one side of the body.

Arm or leg pain. If your herniated disk is in your lower back, you’ll typically feel the most pain in your buttocks, thigh, and calf. You might have pain in part of the foot, as well. If your herniated disk is in your neck, you’ll typically feel the most pain in your shoulder and arm. This pain might shoot into your arm or leg when you cough, sneeze or move into certain positions. Pain is often described as sharp or burning.

Numbness or tingling. People who have a herniated disk often have radiating numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.

Weakness. Muscles served by the affected nerves tend to weaken. This can cause you to stumble, or affect your ability to lift or hold items.

4. Bruises and Discoloration

Bruises don’t always show immediately and don’t mean the end of the world. It can take a few days before the blood from a broken vessel seeps to your skin surface. Sometimes a contusion is just a contusion.

The internal organs are another story. Delayed bruising with tenderness and discoloration that leads to swelling may indicate injured internal organs, tissue, or bones.

Taking Care of Latent Symptoms

Don’t discount a single symptom of car accident pain. Since many symptoms do not appear for weeks or even months after the accident, it’s just common sense to get checked out by a qualified physician.

Beyond medical advice and care, consider the legal and financial ramifications of an injury. Protect yourself and your family by consulting a top personal injury attorney.

The Lobb Law Firm has been helping families like yours for over four decades. If you or a loved one has suffered any type of accident, call our accident attorneys at 844-LOBB-LAW or fill out our contact us form for a free consultation.