Why chronic pain may linger after an auto accident

According to the Insurance Information Institute, each year an estimated 2.3 million people are injured in motor vehicle crashes. And while a car accident may be over in seconds, the pain often lingers long after. In fact, more than 70 percent of people who visit the emergency room after a car crash still feel pain 6 weeks later, according to a study from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The study researchers reviewed the records of 948 patients admitted to the hospital after a vehicle accident and discovered that in those following weeks, neck and back pain was the most common injury, followed by muscle soreness. And despite people’s lingering injuries, only 17 percent had contacted a lawyer about that pain—possibly because they feared they wouldn’t be believed, according to the study. 

“We believe that this research indicates that doctors have to start treating these individuals with persistent widespread pain very early, and not wait for the pain to resolve itself,” says June Hu, a study researcher. She explained that the majority of individuals with widespread pain who were evaluated by a medical professional after an accident saw their pain reduced substantially in that 6-week period, and it was virtually nonexistent 6 months later. However, in the other group that did not seek medical care, pain actually intensified 6 weeks after the accident, and then remained constant with an intensity one year later that was similar to the pain felt immediately after the motor vehicle crash.

One of the most common and painful motor vehicle accident injuries is whiplash, accounting for more than one million injuries each year, and which occurs primarily in rear-end collisions. Whiplash is a neck injury occurring due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip. Front-end collisions do not usually result in whiplash, as the headrest often stops the motion of the head and neck, but these types of accidents can also cause painful neck and spinal injuries. Some estimates indicate that about 25 percent of whiplash injury patients end up suffering from chronic, long-term pain. Symptoms of whiplash will usually appear within 24 hours of the accident, and may include pain and stiffness in the neck, headaches that are often at the base of the skull, dizziness, blurred vision, and fatigue. In some cases, a person with whiplash may also experience difficulty concentrating, memory problems, ringing in the ears, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.

The reason for the chronic, often lingering pain resulting from a motor vehicle crash, whether from whiplash or other injury, is that our bodies and spines were not built to withstand the impact, thus neck and back injuries are most common during car accidents, according to the Mayo Clinic. To minimize long-term injury, it is recommended that even after a low-speed car accident, if you experience back or neck pain, you should seek the help of a medical professional immediately to avoid the effects of lingering, chronic pain. While a simple muscle strain may heal on its own, back or neck pain caused by a car accident may leave a person suffering from pain months or even years later.

If you or someone you love were injured in a car accident, contact a knowledgeable Denver auto accident lawyer who can help evaluate your individual case and ensure your legal rights are protected.