What to Expect Physically After a Car Accident

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Written By Rocky Horton

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If you or someone you know has recently been injured, you may be wondering what to expect physically after a car accident. The truth is that the aftermath of a crash is different for everyone, though we can help you understand the statistics behind injury types and recovery times to better prepare you for the road ahead.

One of the biggest benefits of hiring a car accident lawyer is that they know the legal process of filing for compensation after a crash, in addition to helping you work through the recovery process. But whether you can afford an attorney or not, we want to arm you with information about the injuries you can expect after your car accident and what you can do about them.

How Likely Is It to Get in a Car Accident?

The odds of getting in a car crash are broad statistics that do not apply to everyone equally. According to the National Safety Council, everyone with a license and a car has about a 0.91% chance of dying in a car crash over the course of their life. This equals about 1/107. By contrast, for every 1,000 miles driven, a person has about a 1/366 chance of being in an accident.

These numbers can go up and down for each driver depending on a few factors, including:

  • Driving frequency
  • Driving behavior
  • Driving area
  • Vehicle type

Those who live in more congested traffic areas may have a higher chance of being the victim of a car crash. Those who drive more frequently also will naturally have a greater chance of being in a car accident.

Your exact odds are difficult to estimate, but just know that all vehicle owners are always at risk of becoming a part of these statistics, which is why knowing what to expect physically after a car accident is so important for every driver.

Common Physical Symptoms After a Car Accident

While every car crash circumstance creates unique injuries for those involved depending on the type of crash, the physical condition of the drivers, and more, some symptoms are more common than others.

Importantly, you may experience these symptoms immediately after the crash or they may only appear in the weeks and months following it. This is why it’s important to document your symptoms and verify them with an accredited medical professional if you plan on filing for compensation for your injuries from your insurance company.

Continue reading for a list of some of the most common symptoms experienced after a car accident and what they could mean.


This is a common symptom, especially hours or even days after the crash. Whiplash can contribute to headaches, the onset of neurological injuries, and even stress following a car crash. When accompanied by nausea, a concussion is likely and warrants medical attention.

Neck Pain

This is another symptom commonly related to whiplash, which is the physical action of your neck going back and forth too fast at the moment of a crash. This can cause chronic injuries to your neck as well as neurological damage. Neck pain and headaches commonly accompany each other.

Shoulder Pain

At the moment of a car crash, many people brace for impact. This extreme tension bears the brunt of the force of the crash on the driver’s shoulders, which can lead to shoulder pain.

Back Pain

Back pain is another residual symptom often experienced by those in even minor car crashes. Your back can bear a lot of the force of impact of a crash, causing a herniated disk, a spine injury, and more. Posture problems resulting from any number of crash-related injuries can also lead to back pain.


Bruising is an injury that is immediately apparent after a car crash. Depending on the direction of the force of impact, occupants of the car could have bruising around their seatbelts, where the wheel hit the driver, or where people hit their heads against parts of the car.

Tingling and Numbness

Tingling and numbness are symptoms often related to neurological damage, commonly associated with whiplash, nerve impingement, musculoskeletal damage, and more. The locations of each person in the crash as well as their physical conditions can impact whether neurological injuries are caused or exacerbated by a car accident.


Swelling is your body’s response to injury. Any soft tissue injury, from a sprain to a direct impact, can cause swelling that normally subsides after the injury has healed.

Ears Ringing

Ear ringing could be a sign of head trauma and is often accompanied by loss of balance, headaches, and nausea.

Blurry Vision

Blurred vision, often accompanied by difficulty concentrating, is a strong indicator of injuries such as concussions or PTSD. When accompanied by speaking difficulties, it may indicate brain trauma resulting from a direct impact. 


Dizziness is yet another symptom that could indicate whiplash or a concussion. Those who sustain car crash injuries often experience high levels of stress and low levels of sleep, which can also contribute to delayed onset dizziness.


Stiffness can result from stress and lack of sleep, but it can also be a symptom of the physical strain of being in a car crash. Damage to your back, shoulders, hips, and neck can lead to posture changes as well as musculoskeletal imbalances, which can result in stiffness.


Fatigue is a common symptom in the days and weeks following a car accident. A lack of sleep as well as the pain experienced from injuries can make it difficult to maintain focus and alertness after a car accident.

Common Car Accident Injuries

These common symptoms are often caused by the most common car accident injuries. Understanding these injuries is an important aspect of knowing what to expect physically after a car accident.

Not everyone in a car crash will experience these injuries, but many of them remain hidden at the time of the accident. This is why it is important to accept medical care right away after a car crash and to keep track of your symptoms in the weeks and months that follow.

Common accident injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injuries, often caused by a blow to the head
  • Spine injuries, which can result in disability and even long-term paralysis due to physical damage to the spinal cord
  • Neck injuries, often related to whiplash, which can result in headaches related to damaged muscles and ligaments
  • Back injuries, sustained from the force of the heavy impact of the crash, with symptoms that are commonly delayed
  • Burns and lacerations, which can occur if the skin comes in contact with hot metal, glass, or other debris
  • Internal injuries, which could result from a puncture or even from compression around the seatbelt from the force of impact
  • Fractures, which can occur anywhere on the body, from a broken wrist to a broken pelvis
  • Knee injuries, from bruising to breakage
  • Shoulder injuries, especially from the force of bracing on impact
  • PTSD resulting from emotional trauma from the accident

Late Appearing Car Accident Injuries

Not all car accident injuries appear right away. Symptoms such as back pain, headaches, fatigue, and dizziness can come on long after the crash due to changes in your body resulting from injuries.

They can also be due to stress and posture changes resulting from your body struggling to adapt to injuries. PTSD and other emotional injuries take time after the crash to develop. You may not notice symptoms right away, so it’s important to maintain contact with your doctors and document your pain and suffering. Your lawyer may ask you later to account for your symptoms over time to file a successful legal case for injury compensation.

How Long Does Recovery from a Car Accident Take?

Minor injuries sustained after a car accident can take 6-8 weeks to heal. These include broken bones and minor neck injuries. However, many injuries can linger. Recovery time depends on how serious the injuries were and how well your body responds to treatment.

Life-threatening car accident injuries could take much longer to recover from. Some injuries can cause internal organ damage, neurological damage, and chronic pain issues. Even after recovering from the acute injury, which could take months, many victims of car accidents never fully recover.

If you are wondering what to expect physically after a car accident, check with your medical providers to learn more about your expected timeline of recovery.

How Can a Car Accident Lawyer Help?

Car accident lawyers are not required following a car accident. It is possible to represent yourself in your claim with the insurance company. However, the process of filing is difficult and requires many different steps. They include assembling the documentation needed to properly file the accident, including the other driver’s information and the police report, assembling medical records and reports to account for your injuries, as well as presenting a winning case to the insurance company.

A lawyer’s role in this process is to use their experience in negotiating compensation in personal injury cases to get you the amount you deserve. Research shows that those who are represented by car accident attorneys earn more in their case due to the lawyer’s experience and expertise in navigating the process and negotiating with the insurance adjusters.

While you may choose to represent yourself, especially in cases involving serious injuries, an experienced attorney is the best way to ensure that the case falls in your favor. 


If you are wondering what to expect physically after a car accident, you or someone you know may have recently been in one. All accidents and all injuries are different, but statistics show that many common injuries following a car accident adhere to a similar pattern. The symptoms we described above could come on suddenly or creep up over the weeks and months following an accident.

No matter the symptoms you are experiencing, it’s important to document your injuries and keep up with your medical appointments. Failure to receive prompt medical treatment is one of the most common reasons for cases to be dismissed or under-compensated. Validating your injuries with proper treatment records is key to winning your case.

An experienced car accident attorney can help you navigate the process of filing for compensation after a car crash. Their expertise helps them negotiate your claim as well as aid you in navigating the difficult filing process. If you or someone you know has been in a car accident, contact an experienced car crash lawyer to learn about your options for compensation.

Rocky Horton

Rocky Horton


Rocky Horton is a health and safety expert from Chapel Hill, NC. He is the founder of AccidentAdvisor and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, and other publications. Learn more.