Apart from damage to a motor vehicle, automobile accidents can cause several injuries to both physical and emotional health. According to a report from the Department of Transportation, New Jersey, there were a total of 278,413 car accidents in 2018. Among them, 61,043 accidents resulted in injuries to one or more people involved in that accident. This figure reflects that there is a probability of one in five car accidents causing damage to the physical and mental health of the driver and/or passenger.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that more than 3 million Americans suffer from some type of injury in automobile accidents every year. Thus, it is important to know what kind of bodily harm a person can suffer if one is involved in a motor vehicle accident. The nature and severity of the injury that a person experiences depend upon multiple factors, some of which include:
- Whether the driver and passengers were wearing seatbelts or not
- Type of collision (sideways or front-to-back collision)
- Speed of the vehicle during the time of impact
- Airbag deployment
There are two types of injury: impact injury and penetrating injury. Impact injury refers to an injury sustained due to the transmission of blunt pressure onto the body while penetrating injury refers to the penetration of sharp objects into the skin or soft tissue of the body, such as pieces of glass from shattered windows piercing the skin.
Let’s discuss the 14 most common injuries that people sustain in automobile accidents:
Contusions or Bruising
This falls under the category of soft tissue injury. When a car receives a sudden force from the back or front, and if the driver or passenger is wearing a seatbelt, then they can sustain a bruise or contusion along the line of the seatbelt. That being said, people should not discard using a seatbelt because the bruise that one suffers is mild and it may heal on its own. But if people don’t wear a seatbelt, then they can suffer even greater damage to their physical health.
This occurs when there’s a sudden movement backward and forward movement of the head, thus leading the soft tissues of the neck to stretch abnormally. After suffering a whiplash injury, a person may not immediately experience any symptoms because it could take about 24 hours to develop symptoms. Some symptoms that one can expect after a whiplash injury include the following:
- Neck pain that’s further aggravated with movement
- Neck stiffness
Generally, there are no permanent sequelae of this injury and it heals on its own after a few weeks. That being said, one should see a doctor and get evaluated even if one sustains whiplash injury because bone fracture and ligament (soft tissue connecting two bones) disruption need to be ruled out. For more info on whiplash injuries, check out this blog!
Neck or Back Injuries
The neck and back consist of a series of vertebral bones stacked on top of one another, which are connected by ligaments. A soft disc is placed between those bones that act as a shock absorber. Motor vehicle accidents can injure ligaments and those discs may protrude from their normal location, which can pinch nearby nerves. One may also sustain a fracture of the vertebral bone.
But can a neck injury cause lower back pain?
Since the whole spine, from the neck to the lower back, has a particular natural alignment, the disturbance in this alignment of the neck spine can affect the lower back spine. That’s why if one experiences numbness or tingling in the legs and back pain for more than six weeks after a neck injury, then they should seek medical attention. A doctor will do a physical exam and order imaging for the back to find out the exact problem.
When the head of the driver hits the steering wheel or other parts of the vehicle, then they could suffer from a head injury. Keep in mind that even if the head doesn’t suffer a direct impact, a person can get a brain concussion due to abnormal motion of the head because of the force transmitted from the collision. Head injuries can range from mild concussions—which is the most common head injury—to broken skull bones and even bleeding inside the brain.
Symptoms of a concussion can include not remembering things that you were doing before the accident. Others are:
- Inability to concentrate
- Blurry vision
- Nausea, vomiting
- A ringing sensation in the ears
- A severe concussion can result in loss of consciousness
Children, in particular, may also experience the following symptoms if they’ve suffered a concussion:
- Being dazed
- Crankiness and irritability
- Change in behavior
- Loss of interest in activities that they previously enjoyed
Traumatic brain injuries can cause long-lasting damage to the brain, altering the way the brain processes information and handles tasks.
That said, it’s important to see emergency care after suffering a head injury, especially when you experience the following:
- Loss of consciousness longer than 30 seconds
- Repeated vomiting
- A weakness of the arms or legs
- Worsening headaches
- Watery or hemorrhagic fluid draining from the mouth, ear, and nose
A person has delicate organs inside their abdomen like the liver, spleen, and kidney. Although these are protected by the ribs, they can rupture if a heavy force is transmitted onto the abdomen. A rupturing of one’s organs can cause blood to accumulate inside one’s belly. Since these organs are very vascular, they can cause heavy bleeding, leading to a circulatory collapse.
An abnormal twisting motion of body parts like the arms and legs can lead to bone fracture. The two types of bone fracture include open and closed. An open fracture refers to a bone fracture where the skin is breached and soft tissue is exposed to the surrounding environment. On the other hand, a closed fracture refers to bone fractures with the skin still intact.
A cast, splint, plasters, and external hardware may be required to correctly realign the bone until it heals. Although fractures are not life-threatening, an open fracture can cause heavy bleeding; a seatbelt can cause rib fractures, which may heal on their own if adequate rest is taken. Depending on the location of the fracture, healing may take a few weeks to months.
Cuts and Scrapes
During a collision, if loose objects like cell phones, mugs, metal objects, and books are unsecured, they can fly and hit any part of the body, thereby causing injury. The damaged part of the car and broken glass pieces from a window can poke into the skin, causing cuts and scrapes.
If a knee joint hits the dashboard, it can get dislocated or bruised, and bleeding can occur. Soft tissues like ligaments and menisci in the knee may also be torn. Menisci are cartilages located inside the knee joint.
Read Also: Effect of HGH Treatment on Spinal Injuries
Ankle and Foot Injuries
A twisting motion of the ankle joint and foot can cause soft tissue injury, which can range from a minor sprain to ligament disruption and fractured foot bones. Foot sprain requires only rest and analgesics, while torn ligaments require surgery. Foot fractures may require casts and splints.
Hand and Wrist Injuries
The lower end of the forearm bone can get broken and the wrist may sustain a twisting injury.
The shoulder can sustain a variety of injuries, like bruises, abrasions, and dislocation of the shoulder joint.
These kinds of injuries range from minor cuts to disfiguring lesions on the face that may require surgical treatment.
Lacerations and Road Rash
When the body of a person is dragged on the road, the skin may sustain bruises, abrasions, and contusions. This is called road rash. Lacerations refer to irregular, deep, and jagged cuts on the skin and muscle due to sharp objects or glass fragments. These types of injuries require wound debridement and dressing. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Several emotional and mental health problems can occur after experiencing an automobile accident. Psychological pain, mental distress, and guilty feelings are common occurrences after suffering automobile accident injuries. One may experience nightmares and flashbacks about the accident. While driving, one may also try to avoid or bypass the road where the accident had taken place. A person may also experience a sense of fear while hearing someone talk about another motor vehicle accident. Sleep problems are also common.
These events can severely impact someone’s personal and professional life. In case you or someone you know experiences this kind of emotional turbulence, seek the professional services of a psychiatrist who can help you cope with these problems.
Other Types of Injuries
Apart from the above-mentioned injuries, other types of injuries can also occur, although these are not that common. Some of them are:
- Spinal cord injury: Since the spinal cord controls sensation and the movement of the limbs, suffering a spinal cord injury may cause partial or total paralysis of the arms and legs. This may require surgical management.
- Burns: Skin burns can occur if the body comes in contact with hot surfaces. Depending on the severity, skin burns may need to be treated with skin grafting.
- Limb loss: In an accident, arms, legs, or fingers can suffer severe injuries that may require surgical amputation.
- Crush injury: When the limb or any body part is crushed between two hard surfaces, there can be severe damage to the muscle, which is called a crush injury.
If a person has suffered automobile accident injuries, it’s best to seek medical advice despite the seeming absence of pain. This is because one may be experiencing an internal injury that may go unnoticed. Sometimes, symptoms don’t manifest immediately, and it may take a few hours to several days before an individual starts experiencing health problems.