What If My Accident Injuries Don't Show Up Right Away?

Many car accident injuries that don’t show up immediately after the accident include concussions, soft tissue injuries, and back injuries.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

Most car accidents are traumatic events. After all, there's a lot of force involved when a vehicle hits (or is hit by) something.

  • Even seemingly minor accidents can lead to significant harm, but sometimes injuries don't show up right away.
  • The most common types of car accident injuries that show up later are soft tissue injuries, concussions, and back injuries.
  • It's crucial to monitor and treat potential injuries for the sake of your health and ability to receive financial compensation for your injuries.

Soft Tissue Injuries After a Car Accident

A soft tissue injury refers to damage done to parts of the body other than bone. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are considered "soft tissue."

Car accidents, even low-speed ones, generate a lot of force. Drivers and passengers often come to a sudden stop right along with the vehicle; or they may get thrown around the passenger area. This places a lot of stress on joints and other vulnerable areas of the body.

Soft tissue injuries typically result in pain, swelling, and reduced mobility, but these symptoms may not show up immediately. They can take days, even weeks, to manifest. In addition, soft tissue injuries are not visible on an X-ray. This makes them more challenging to diagnose and document. Getting proper medical treatment is the key first step, at or even before the first sign of pain or discomfort (more on this below) after a car accident.

Concussions After a Car Accident

Your brain is well-protected by your skull and surrounding fluid but, if you strike your head, or your body is violently jolted, your brain can contact the inside of your skull with great force. If this happens during the course of a car accident, you could sustain a concussion.

Concussions can be very serious, and the symptoms do not often show up immediately. Disorientation or even loss of consciousness are obvious symptoms, but other signs of concussion can be more subtle, including:

  • clouded thinking
  • inability to concentrate
  • difficulty remembering new information
  • headache
  • blurry vision
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • lack of energy, and
  • abnormal sleep patterns (sleeping more than usual or less than usual)

Seek prompt medical attention if you're experiencing any of these symptoms signs following a car accident.

Back Injuries and Back Pain After a Car Accident

The human spine is a complex system of bones, muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues. So even a minor collision can easily result in a back injury, whether damage to the bone (vertebrae), muscles, tendons, discs, ligaments, or nerves in the neck (cervical vertebrae), upper back (thoracic), or lower back (lumbar).

Besides pain, there are other signs of a back injury, such as:

  • reduced mobility
  • muscle spasms
  • trouble walking, standing, or sitting,
  • headaches
  • body stiffness
  • headaches

Other common symptoms of back injuries include numbness and tingling.

Numbness and Tingling After a Car Accident

Depending on the severity and nature of the injury, late appearing injuries will sometimes first manifest as numbness and or a tingling sensation. This is particularly true in the back and the body's extremities (arms, legs, hands and feet). These feelings can be the result of:

  • deep cuts that have severed nerves
  • significant impact to tissue causing nerve compression
  • a disc herniation in the back or neck that can pinch or push on a nerve
  • damage to muscle, bones, ligaments, or tendons that put pressure on a nerve

Numbness and tingling might be the first observation relating to a delayed-onset car accident injury. But other feelings may follow or accompany the numbness or tingling sensation, like:

  • shooting pain along the arms, legs, or back
  • muscle weakness
  • prickling sensations, and
  • uncontrollable muscle twitches.

See a Doctor After a Car Accident

Following a car accident, you should see a doctor if you feel any level of pain and discomfort. It may even be a good idea to get checked out even if you feel fine. Your doctor will be in the best position to determine whether you sustained any serious injuries in the accident. Your doctor can also give you advice on monitoring symptoms of potential injuries, including the sorts of red flags to watch out for.

If you end up making any sort of injury claim after the accident, it's crucial to be able to document the fact that you sought medical treatment within a reasonable amount of time. If you wait too long to see a doctor, the insurance adjuster is going to argue that you couldn't have been all that injured.

Do Not Settle Right Away

Following a car accident, the other driver's insurance company may contact you and try to get you to sign a release of any claims you might have. The insurance company may even offer you a sum of money to entice you to sign the release.

You should wait until you have been fully evaluated by a medical professional before signing anything the adjuster puts in front of you. You should also wait long enough to make sure all injuries from the car accident have fully manifested themselves. Your doctor can help you determine how long this needs to be. If you sign a release, and an injury shows up later, you cannot then go back to the insurance company and ask them to pay for your medical treatment. You waive your legal right to pursue that compensation when you sign the release.

What If My Injuries Return After a Settlement?

Despite your best efforts and precautions, it's still possible for pain or an injury to remain or return after you've settled your legal claims relating to the car accident. In most cases, this will limit you from suing the at-fault driver or the car insurance company for additional compensation. Yet there could still be legal options and arguments available, including claiming the legal release was obtained in a coercive or fraudulent manner, or suing a different party that was not a part of the settlement.

Getting Help After a Car Accident

To make sure your car accident claim is in experienced hands, talk to a car accident lawyer, who can assess your situation and take the right steps to ensure the most favorable outcome, including filing a car accident lawsuit.

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