Motor Vehicle Accident: General Precautions

Strong forces may be involved in a car accident. It's important to watch for any new symptoms that may signal hidden injury.

It's normal to feel sore and tight in your muscles and back the next day, and not just the muscles you initially injured. Remember, all the parts of your body are connected. So while at first 1 area hurts, the next day another may hurt. Injuries cause inflammation. This then causes the muscles to tighten up and hurt more. After the initial worsening, pain should slowly improve over the next few days. But report more severe pain to your healthcare provider.

Even without a definite head injury, you can still get a concussion from your head suddenly jerking forward, backward or sideways. Concussions and even bleeding can still occur, especially if you've had a recent injury, take blood thinner, or are over age 65. It's common to have a mild headache and feel tired, nauseated, or dizzy. Know what warning signs of concussion to report to your healthcare provider.

A motor vehicle accident, even a minor one, can be very stressful and cause emotional or mental symptoms after the event. These may include:

  • General sense of anxiety and fear

  • Recurring thoughts or nightmares about the accident

  • Trouble sleeping or changes in appetite

  • Feeling depressed, sad, or low in energy

  • Being irritable or easily upset

  • Feeling the need to avoid activities, places, or people that remind you of the accident

In most cases, these are normal reactions and are not severe enough to get in the way of your normal activities. These feelings often go away in a few days, or sometimes after a few weeks. Talk with your healthcare provider if they last longer, get worse, or disrupt your daily life.

Home care

Muscle pain, sprains, and strains

Even if you have no visible injury, it's not unusual to be sore all over, and have new aches and pains the first couple of days after an accident. Take it easy at first, and don't overdo it. 

  • At first, don't try to stretch out the sore spots. If there is a strain, stretching may make it worse.

  • You can use an ice pack or cold compress on the sore spots for up to 20 minutes at a time, as often as you feel comfortable. This may help reduce the inflammation, swelling, and pain. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth. Don't put ice directly on your skin.

  • After the inflammation and pain go away you may be left with stiffness. If this is the case, you can use a heating pad, especially on your low back.

Wound care

  • If you have any scrapes or abrasions, they often heal in about 10 days. It is important to keep the abrasions clean while they first start to heal. Follow wound care instructions from your healthcare provider. Watch for early signs of infection such as:

    • Increasing redness, warmth, or swelling around the wound

    • Fever

    • Red streaking around the wound

    • Draining pus

Medicines

  • Talk to your healthcare provider before taking new medicines, especially if you have other medical problems or are taking other medicines.

  • If you need anything for pain, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen, unless you were given a different pain medicine to use. Ibuprofen is a good anti-inflammatory that can help with these types of injuries. Talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines if you have medicine allergies, chronic liver or kidney disease, or ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, or are taking blood thinner medicines. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

  • Be careful if you are given prescription pain medicines, narcotics, or medicine for muscle spasm. They can make you sleepy, dizzy and can affect your coordination, reflexes and judgment. Don't drive or do work where you can injure yourself when taking them.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If emotional or mental symptoms get worse or don't go away, follow up with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. You may have a more serious traumatic stress reaction. There are treatments that can help.

If X-rays or CT scans were done, you'll be told if there are any concerns that affect your treatment.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • One pupil is larger than the other

  • Repeated vomiting

  • Headache that gets worse or doesn't go away

  • Restlessness or agitation

  • Confusion, drowsiness, or trouble waking up

  • Fainting, loss of consciousness, convulsions, or seizures

  • Fast heart rate

  • Trouble with speech or sight

  • Trouble walking, loss of balance, numbness or weakness in 1 side of your body, facial droop

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • New or worsening pain in neck, back, belly (abdomen), arm, or leg

  • Redness, swelling, or pus coming from any wound

  • Mental or emotional symptoms that don't get better or get worse

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