Why Do I Need to Go to the Doctor After a Car Wreck?

You’ve been in a car wreck but feel like seeing a doctor is a waste of time, especially if you don’t feel badly hurt.

After all, what will the doctor even do if you do not have any major cuts, broken bones, or pain following your car accident?

But seeing a doctor after a car wreck is extremely important, even if you don’t have obvious injuries.

As a personal injury lawyer, one of the first things I do is send my clients to a doctor. But even though seeing any doctor is better than seeing no doctor at all, I encourage my clients to see a doctor who specializes in both internal medicine as well as physical medicine.

So I sat with one such doctor, Dr. Scott Clark of Clark Integrated Medical Clinics, so he could explain how the body responds to the impact of a car wreck.

According to Dr. Clark, it is very common for a person who has been injured in a car wreck to actually feel no pain at first. He compares it to going to the gym for the first time in a while. That same day you might feel fine. The next day you might feel some soreness. And the day after, you may hardly be able to sit or stand without bracing yourself like a 90 year old.

The same is true with trauma following a car wreck. It could take days, weeks, or months for your body to start feeling the effects of the impact from the crash.

And that’s natural…

One reason you may immediately feel no pain or discomfort after a wreck is because of your body’s natural response to danger (also known as the “fight or flight” response). Your body releases a group of hormones called endorphins which activate your body’s opiate receptors. This can cause many feelings like a high or happiness, but it can also have a pain numbing effect.

Because of this, even though your body may have sustained a serious internal injury, you may not feel that injury immediately.

What if it was just a low impact collision?

According to Dr. Clark, even low impact car collisions can produce a dangerous amount of force for the neck and spine. He explains that the neck is a very small structure between the head and torso that is only supported by ligaments, which makes it very susceptible to injury after the force of a collision.

In a rear end collision involving two average sized cars each weighing about 3,000 pounds at a speed of just 7 mph, the force produced could be 6-19 gs.

“To put that into perspective, it only takes 8 gs to put our astronauts into orbit. The difference is that the collision at 7 mph happens in 1-2 tenths of a second whereas the astronauts are put into orbit in over an hour. That timing or lack of timing can cause tremendous amounts of damage to the structures of the spine,” explains Dr. Clark.

What if my vehicle wasn’t that damaged?

People often equate the damage of a vehicle to the amount of injury. Along those same lines, it is often incorrectly assumed that an impact causing little damage to a vehicle would also have resulted in minor injury, if any.

This is an incorrect assumption. As Dr. Clark explains, as our vehicles have become safer over the years, the bodies of vehicles, particularly the bumpers, have become stiffer to withstand more of an impact without resulting in more damage to the vehicle.

But as you probably learned in high school science class, force cannot simply disappear. It has to go somewhere, and what is not absorbed by the bumper or body of the vehicle is usually transferred to the occupants of the vehicle.

In other words, because your bumper is so much more crush resistant, the force of a collision bypasses the car and affects you or your passengers instead.

Because of that, Dr. Clark reports that his office often sees patients who are more injured from a low impact collision that from a higher impact collision in which the vehicle absorbs more the energy from the crash.

*It is also important to know that according to Louisiana law, the amount of damage to a vehicle does not equate to injury. So in other words, the law supports a person’s claim that a low impact, low damage vehicle could have caused significant injury.

Some symptoms to watch for following a car wreck, even a minor impact collision are:

  1. Neck and/or back pain

  2. muscle spasms

  3. pain, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs

It’s also important to be aware of symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury following a collision which could include:

  1. forgetfulness

  2. lightheadedness

  3. dizziness

  4. concussion

But Dr. Clark reiterates that these symptoms may not be present at first which is why it is not safe to assume that a lack of symptoms initially means a lack of injury.

Like I mentioned earlier, I encourage my clients who have been in a car wreck to see a doctor who specializes in both physical and internal medicine.

While seeing any doctor is better than not seeing a doctor at all, many doctors will look for physical signs of injury or rely on the symptoms you report feeling. Again, a lack of physical signs of injury and even a lack of pain at first does not mean that no injury occurred.

It is wise for both your physical recovery and your personal injury case to see a doctor who will evaluate not just the physical signs of injury but the spine as well. Any imaging, like X-rays, that can be done shortly after your wreck would be helpful for quickly diagnosing an injury that may take days, weeks, or months to show symptoms.

If you are in the Lafayette, LA or New Iberia, LA, areas, consider seeing the medical staff at Clark Integrated Medical Clinics. Not only will you be evaluated by a medical doctor or physician’s assistant, but you will also be evaluated by a chiropractor who will use X-rays and their spine expertise to recognize injury to the spine.

The treatment that could follow could include medications, physical therapy, chiropractic care, or even injections if those treatments are considered necessary for your recovery.

Whoever you see, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible after your car wreck. Again, not only will this give you the best chance to recover physically, it will also be important for the value of your personal injury case.

Insurance companies often argue that a person who did not receive medical treatment immediately was not badly enough injured to need it and therefore may not be entitled to full compensation. However, as we know as personal injury lawyers and as Dr. Clark explained, symptoms may take days, weeks, or even months to appear.

If you wait to start seeking treatment until that point, the insurance company will again argue that your injury was not severe or that your pain arose from something that may have happened since the accident.

So it is important to have as much documentation as possible of your symptoms as they progress following a car crash.


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