Coming Back from a Motor Vehicle Accident

It is inevitable that you will be involved in some kind of automobile accident at some point in your life, and, if you are unlucky, you could struggle with a long recovery from pain and injury. In the U.S., there are almost 6 million car accidents annually, resulting in the 3 million injured people.  Almost two million of these people will suffer permanent injuries.

If you are involved in a car accident, you probably want to put it behind you as fast as possible and return to your daily routine. Unfortunately, an injury can delay your recovery weeks, months or, even, years, depending on the severity of the trauma. Although the physical trauma may be the most visible, it may be the emotional aftereffects that prove the most problematic.

Most Common Car Injuries

Despite the improving safety standards in modern automobiles, there will always be a risk of serious injury when multi-ton vehicles collide. There are a wide variety of potential injuries that can arise from a car accident, but there are some that are more common than others.

  • Head injuries—it is fairly common for people to injure their heads in an accident due to an impact with the steering wheel or windshield. These kinds of injuries may range from mild bumps to serious concussions that can cause lasting brain damage.
  • Whiplash—the sharp deceleration of a vehicle upon impact can whip the head of passengers violently back and forth. This may produce damage to the spinal joints, discs, nerves or surrounding muscles. In most cases the pain will resolve within a few weeks, but for some patients, it may take much longer.
  • Broken bones—many people suffer broken bones in a collision. Depending on which bone is fractured and the severity of the break, it may take weeks or months to heal. In many cases, your recovery will involve physical therapy to restore strength and joint function.
  • Spinal injuries—your back can easily be injured in a car accident due to a sharp impact with a hard surface. This can lead to damage of the nerves, bones, connective tissue and musculature that can produce pain for many months or years. Minor strains may require only minor medical intervention including physical therapy or bed rest, but more serious injuries like fractured vertebrae may require surgery.
  • Psychological trauma—many people involved in serious car accidents may walk away with mental health problems like anxiety, depression or posttraumatic stress disorder. These kinds of issues can take months of counseling and psychoactive medications to resolve.

Initial Steps in Your Recovery

Every car accident injury is unique, so how your recovery will proceed depends on your specific circumstances.  In the immediate aftermath of an auto accident, here are some steps that you should take.

  • If you know you have been physically injured during the accident, then ask the on-site medical professionals to examine you. If you suspect that you have been injured, but the paramedics cannot conclusively determine their nature, then ask to be transported to a health care facility for more testing.
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations including amount of bed rest, medications and treatment regime. Always be open and honest about any health issues you are struggling with.
  • Initially, it is important to sleep as much as possible which will speed up the healing process.  If you have difficulty sleeping, ask your doctor for help; they may recommend medications or counseling to improve sleep.
  • Physical therapy is often a key component of injury recovery.  Working with a physical therapist, you will strengthen atrophied muscles and restore flexibility to stiff tissue.
  • Eat a healthy diet. You shouldn’t underestimate the impact your diet has on your recovery rate. You want to initially eat a diet rich in protein and essential nutrients to improve your healing process and prevent infection. You may consume more calories while recovering since your body needs the energy to rebuild damaged tissue.
  • See your doctor as scheduled. Make it a point to visit your doctor as recommended. Not only will this allow your doctor to monitor your progress and adjust your treatment as necessary but will also enable you to bring up any new health issues that may arise. For example, it may take some time for whiplash pain to manifest, so it is important to stay in touch with your provider.
  • Don’t go back to work until you are ready. You may be eager to return to your normal routine, but a premature return to work may worsen your condition and slow your recovery. Get your physician’s permission before you take up your professional responsibilities again.
  • Talk to a mental health professional if necessary. Not everyone who has a car accident can shrug off the pain and fear that is so common. If you find yourself reliving the event or have difficulty returning to normal, ask your physician for a referral to a counselor.  It may take some time, but it may make your recovery shorter and more effective.

Pain Relief after an Accident

It is quite common to experience pain in the days and weeks following a car accident, but it is also possible to suffer pain for years afterward.  While it is possible to treat short-term pain with powerful pain medications like opioids, due to the health risks involved, you probably won’t be able to stay on them long-term.

If you find yourself suffering from chronic pain, you will have to employ a more expansive pain management system that may include physical therapy, mind-body techniques, cognitive training or alternative pain therapies. You should discuss your condition with your physician, and you may want to consult with a pain specialist about your chronic pain.

It may be possible to address a chronic pain issue with a surgical procedure if the underlying cause is accurately identified, but in many cases, that is not possible. Instead, you will likely have to work with your care team to manage your pain with a multi-layered approach.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information