Late-Appearing Car Accident Injuries

It can take a while for some car accident injuries to show up. Here's what to look for and what to do.

Reviewed by , J.D.

If you've been involved in a car accident, it's not unusual for your pain to get worse as time passes. After the initial shock of the accident wears off and your body stops producing endorphins -- which can mask pain and other symptoms of injury -- you may hurt more on the day after the accident than on the day of. With any accident you need to be on the lookout for injuries with delayed symptoms. This article looks at a few of the most common late-appearing effects of a car accident, and what you can do to protect your health and your legal rights.

Soft Tissue Injuries and Whiplash

The most common delayed injuries are soft tissue injuries. "Whiplash" is an informal descriptor of soft tissue injuries in the neck, and it's a useful term mostly because of the public's familiarity with it. Whiplash is commonly understood as pain in the neck, but can affect any neural pathway, including into the extremities and down the spine. Other possible symptoms of whiplash include:

  • difficulty moving or reduced range of motion
  • stiffness in arms and shoulders
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • muscle spasms
  • slowed reflexes, and
  • numbness or weakness in afflicted areas

With these symptoms, whiplash can not only make life unpleasant, it can make everyday tasks around the home and at work considerably more difficult. Treatment can include physical therapy, and chiropractic manipulation may be beneficial in some cases. Learn more about Soft Tissue Injuries and Whiplash after a car accident.


In addition to whiplash, concussions are another common injury that may not be immediately evident, especially if you do not have an acquaintance with you who is familiar with you and can judge your post-accident behavior. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury in which the brain strikes the inside of the skull. This can happen either as a result of the skull impacting something or by sudden deceleration -- when the head is in motion and suddenly stops. With these acceleration-deceleration concussions, whiplash is also a serious concern.

Concussions present in a variety of ways. A key defining characteristic of concussions are that they cause some sort of (temporary) loss of brain function. This can manifest in a variety of forms, including:

  • headaches
  • loss of balance
  • blurred or double vision
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • convulsion
  • vomiting
  • disorientation
  • confusion
  • amnesia
  • difficulty reasoning or concentrating
  • depression or anxiety
  • irritability
  • lethargy, insomnia, or other altered sleep cycles

About 5 to 7 percent of people who are hospitalized with a concussion will have a post-traumatic seizure at some point in their lives, even as much as 15 years after an accident. Children and the elderly are most susceptible to post-traumatic seizures. The most severe concussions, which include bleeding into the brain, can also lead to post-traumatic epilepsy, a permanent condition. Even in more routine cases, a concussion can alter the brain's activity for a time period anywhere between a few hours to weeks.

Treatment for concussions generally treats the symptoms rather than the injury itself, except in very rare cases where surgery is necessary. Learn more about Brain Injuries After a Car Accident.

Emotional Harm

The most difficult injury to spot and diagnose after a car accident can be emotional or psychological damage. Aside from more catch-all pain and suffering damages, the most common emotional harm linked to car accidents is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which (to sum it up in a very general sense) involves misplaced situational anxiety following a traumatic event. As with a concussion, a person with PTSD may suffer depression, anxiety, or other disruptions of their normal personality. PTSD may not arise until as long as several months after an accident. Get more information on Pain and Suffering and PTSD in car accident cases.

What Does This Mean For Your Case?

The first concern with these sorts of late-appearing injuries is, of course, that you receive proper treatment for them and do all that you can to recover. The second concern is that they can make it more difficult in valuing and settling a case or claim. Often, an insurance company (if the other driver is at fault, usually his or her insurer, but sometimes your own) will try to get you to sign a release for a settlement shortly after the crash. While this settlement may pay some of your damages, if you sign a settlement that covers all of your current damages but then have to spend money on medical bills to treat a post-traumatic seizure, you will not be able to go back to the insurer to get these bills covered. For everything you need to know about settlement process and valuing your case, check out our Car Accident Settlements section.

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