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Eric T. Chaffin
Eric T. Chaffin
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Watch Out for “Hidden” Injuries After a Car Accident

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Linda thought she had escaped her car accident relatively unscathed. She’d been hit from behind while approaching a traffic jam on the highway, but she was wearing her seatbelt, and could detect no major injuries directly afterwards.

A few days later, however, she wasn’t feeling so well. Her neck hurt, and she was having a hard time sitting for very long. She assumed it was probably delayed soreness from the accident and tried to ignore it. But within a week, it had gotten worse.

Linda’s experience isn’t unusual. The body produces stress hormones and endorphins after an accident—a natural defense mechanism. These can mask pain and other symptoms of potential injuries, fooling victims into thinking that all is well. That’s why it’s important to give it time and be on the lookout for your health and legal rights.

Potential Hidden Injuries

There are a number of injuries caused by car crashes that may take time to make themselves known. The most common include:

• Whiplash (injury to the neck muscles)
• Bruising or tearing of muscles, tendons, and ligaments
• Concussions
• Spinal trauma and injuries
• Post traumatic stress disorder

Symptoms of whiplash and concussion, in particular, can be difficult to recognize. Whiplash may result in stiffness, dizziness, or headaches, all of which one might expect to occur after a car accident. It can also cause muscle spasms, numbness, and weakness, however, and if untreated, can continue to cause chronic pain.

A concussion may result in headaches as well, along with irritability and fatigue, but again, these may be expected after a car accident. Over time, other symptoms may appear, like blurred vision, ringing in the ears, disorientation or confusion, and loss of balance.

Victims of both of these injuries are best advised to seek medical help immediately. Physical therapy can improve the outcome of whiplash, and rest is required after concussion to reduce risk of complications.

A spinal injury can be even more serious in some cases. It may be weeks before the victim notices symptoms, as it can take time for an injured disc to herniate or otherwise degenerate to the point of causing pain. Symptoms can also be confusing—you may feel pain or numbness in your foot, for instance, and not realize that the source is your spine.

Protecting Yourself After an Accident

What can you do if like Linda, you don’t notice your symptoms right away? You fail to report any serious injuries, you settle the claim, and then later become saddled with medical expenses. Is there a better alternative?

Legal experts advise victims to take their time when settling claims. Allow your body to recover and adjust. Get a medical checkup after the accident even if you feel okay. Then keep a journal that describes each day’s experiences, in case symptoms appear down the road. Describe any pain as mild, moderate, or severe, and track the progress.

If you do notice symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact a car accident lawyer. He or she can help explain your legal rights, and may be able to help you avoid having to pay future medical expenses out of your own pocket.