Motor Vehicle Accident: No Serious Injury

You or your child have been seen today because of a car accident. Your exam does not show any sign of serious injury from your car accident. It's important to watch for any new symptoms that might be a sign of hidden injury.

It can be 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 initially one area hurts, the next day another may hurt. Injuries cause inflammation, which then causes the muscles to tighten up and hurt more. After the initial worsening, it should slowly improve over the next few days. However, 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. It's common to have a mild headache and feel tired, nauseated, or dizzy. Concussions and even bleeding can still occur, especially if you've had a recent injury, take blood thinners, or are over age 65. Know the warning signs that you should report to your healthcare provider.

Even without physical injury, a car accident can be very stressful. It can 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 they're not severe enough to interfere with your normal activities. They should go away in a few days or a few weeks. Talk with your healthcare provider if these reactions 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 common 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 thin towel or cloth. Don't put the ice pack directly on the skin.

  • Sometimes, after the pain and inflammation heal you can be left with a good amount of stiffness. In this 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 about10 days. It's 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 lines around the wound

    • Draining pus

Medicines

  • Talk to your healthcare provider before taking new medicine, 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 an anti-inflammatory agent and helps more with muscle soreness. Talk with your provider before using these medicines if you have medicine allergies, chronic liver or kidney disease, stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, or are taking blood thinner medicines. Always follow your provider's instructions.

  • Be careful if you're given prescription pain medicines, narcotics, or medicines 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 persist or get worse, follow up with your provider right away. You may have a more serious traumatic stress reaction. There are treatments that can help.

If X-rays or a CT scan were done, you'll be told if there is a change that affects treatment.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • One pupil is larger than the other

  • Repeated vomiting

  • Headache that worsens and does not go away

  • Restlessness or agitation

  • Confusion, drowsiness, or trouble arousing

  • Fainting, loss of consciousness, convulsions, or seizures

  • Rapid 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 the following occur:

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

  • Redness, swelling, or pus coming from any wound

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

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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