If you’re involved in a car accident, statistics show that there’s a significant chance that you or someone you love will be injured in that accident. On average one out of every three motor vehicle accidents results in some type of injury. And, with more than 6 million accidents in the United States, alone, that means there are more than 2 million accidents resulting in more than 3 million injured men, women, and children each year.
These injuries range from minor cuts and scrapes to life-changing, and sometimes life-ending, trauma. Some injuries are obvious, but other soft tissue injuries are often undetectable at the time of the accident, showing up as stiffness, numbness, soreness, severe or chronic headaches, and even mild brain injury days or weeks after the event. Because there is such a wide range of medical issues possible with an auto accident, it’s important to seek the best medical treatment related to your particular injury or condition.
As you consider treatment for your injuries, here are some important things to remember:
Get the Help You Need - When You Need It
By definition, accidents aren't planned, so when you’re involved in accident, you'll primarily be reacting to your situation. If the accident is serious, someone will most likely be administering emergency medical care to you or someone you love. If possible, make them aware of any medical history or ongoing condition that may affect their work. Tell them, for example, if you have diabetes, a heart condition, or are currently taking any long-term medications.
If the accident requires a visit to a hospital or emergency room, cooperate fully with the medical professionals and staff and allow them to perform whatever tests they believe are needed to address any immediate or life-threatening medical conditions. Listen carefully to their questions and give them as much information as possible about your symptoms, how you’re feeling, etc. In general, make it a point to accept the doctor’s orders for tests or treatments, but if you have any questions or want a second opinion before a serious, but non-life threatening procedure, don’t hesitate to ask.
If your injury or condition requires ongoing care, the emergency room doctors or your attending physician should ask for the names of your regular doctors and then may recommend further testing or visits to specialists, as needed. Once your condition is stabilized, you should take these recommendations seriously, but remember that you have the right to more than one opinion about your ongoing care.
Generally speaking, the more severe your injury the more specialized your care needs will be. This may mean contacting specialists your doctor is not familiar with or even aware of. Doctors typically develop a small network of other physicians they know and refer patients to. There is nothing wrong with this practice of course, but, as the patient, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable going outside of that network to make sure you get the best care and the treatment you need.
KEY STRATEGY – Once you’re out of any immediate medical danger, take time to evaluate your situation and come up with a plan. Listen to the recommendations of your ER Doctors and/or your General Practitioner (GP), but ask questions and investigate your medical options. Make sure you find the right doctor(s) for your specific needs.
Post-Accident Pain - Uncovering "Hidden" Injuries
When an accident occurs some injuries are obvious. Broken bones, bruising, and bleeding from cuts or lacerations are all signs that let you and others around you know that you’ve been hurt. This type of injury typically gets “discovered” and treated right away. But there are other, less obvious injuries that occur, even in seemingly minor accidents, which are just as real but far more difficult to recognize, diagnose, and treat.
These “hidden” injuries are less obvious and usually result from the stress and strain put on your body from the force of impact of the collision between your vehicle and another object. These injuries typically take longer to appear than other blunt trauma injuries and the injured may not even begin to feel symptoms or become of aware of their condition until days, weeks, and even months after the fact. Adding to the difficulties of these conditions, “hidden” injuries are often impossible to test for with traditional diagnostic equipment such as x-rays, MRIs, and CAT scans. These machines do not register these kind of soft tissue injuries, even though both the damage and pain are very real.
Below, we discuss two of the most common forms of “hidden” injuries – myofascial injury (which is more commonly described as “whiplash”) and mild traumatic brain injury (which is often better known as “concussion”). These conditions are too often treated lightly or even dismissed by the general public. Many times, even the injured party ignores what their own body is telling them. But make no mistake, these are serious injuries that must be recognized and treated in order for full recovery to occur.
Myofascial Injuries (“Whiplash”)
Myofascial injuries refer to injuries causing pain that originates from muscles during spasm and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recognizes whiplash as “a range of neck injuries related to sudden distortions of the neck that commonly occur in rear-end crashes”. In more simple terms, whiplash refers to the type of neck injury that most often occurs when a vehicle is hit from behind and the driver’s and/or passenger’s head and neck are suddenly and unexpectedly jerked by the impact.
The injuries that result from whiplash or whiplash-related disorders can range from as minor as mild muscle strain or slight tearing of soft tissues up to nerve and disc damage or even ruptured ligaments and fractured vertebrae. Symptoms of these injuries also range from mild to severe, including headaches, shooting pains, difficulty or soreness during full range of motion, tenderness, swelling, and muscle spasms.
Whiplash injuries can begin presenting mild symptoms immediately but most often it takes between 24 and 72 hours (1-3 days) before it’s clear just how severe the injuries actually are. In all but the most serious cases, whiplash will not be diagnosed by a machine but instead must be described by the injured patient. If you’ve been involved in a collision and are in pain but you have not seen a doctor or been diagnosed, it’s important to make an appointment and be examined immediately.
Treatment for whiplash may range from self-care like ice packs and pain relief (acetaminophen) and anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen) medications, to professional medical treatment including neck massage, ice therapy, or rehabilitation exercises. Regardless of how severe the injury or significant the treatments, the important thing is to recognize the injury and get the help that you need to recover.
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Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (“Concussion”)
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury can also be seen as a mid to high level concussion, which is defined by the Brain Injury Association of America as a “physical injury to the brain that causes a disruption of normal functioning.” While concussions are graded from a low Grade 1 injury, where a person is confused but generally recovered within 15-20 minutes, all the way to a Grade 3 injury where a person loses consciousness for a few seconds or minutes, a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) would be the next degree on the continuum with MTBI defined by any loss of consciousness or any loss of memory before or after the incident or accident causing injury.
The injuries that result from MTBI or severe concussion range from a temporary disruption of normal brain activity all the way to permanent changes in the brain that can effect how a person functions physically and mentally, including their emotional responsiveness and behavior patterns. In short, even a mild brain injury can permanently change a person’s life and, as a result, the lives of those around them.
Symptoms of MTBI generally come in two stages. In the early stage, a person suffering from MTBI may have lesser symptoms such as a headache or dizziness or slight confusion. In the later stage, the effects of the injury are more significant and include inability to concentrate, easy fatigue, irritability, anxiety and depression, and a quick temper.
It is generally these later stage symptoms that really start to show just how life-changing a MTBI can be and why it is so important for the injured person to “uncover” this hidden condition. For a victim of MTBI, it is easy to link the early stage indications like a headache or confusion with the accident that caused them. These are obvious symptoms and it is easy to understand how they would result from a collision.
The later stage symptoms, such as distraction, irritability, and depression are less obviously linked. And, because they present much later than the accident, some injured persons and their families never make the connection between these real injuries and the accident or incident that caused them. Everyone sees a person who is having trouble on the job or at home and is suddenly moody and difficult, but no one realizes that same person has actually suffered an injury.
MTBI can be diagnosed and treated, but it is essential to first recognize it as an injury and seek help.
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