After you’ve been in a car crash and you think you’re ok, your next step is usually to get out of your car and assess the damage to all the vehicles involved in the wreck. But before you do that, there’s an even more important assessment you need to make!
One of the problems with traumatic events is that they can cause you to go into shock, which can leave you feeling confused and can dull your senses and awareness of the things going on around you—and inside your body. So, after a crash, your thinking and evaluating skills can be greatly reduced. In addition, the adrenaline released in your body can produce something called “stress-induced analgesia” which masks pain and can trick you into believing you’re not hurt. This can last for several hours or even several days. Shock can also affect memory, so it’s critical that you process what you’ve just experienced as quickly as possible before important details are forgotten.
So, when you immediately feel the urge to get out of your car after a crash, stop! Unless you are in danger if you stay in your vehicle, take a moment and do an assessment from inside your car before your attention is drawn elsewhere.
- First, did the impact cause your airbag to deploy? This, of course, will be immediately obvious, but injuries caused by the airbag may not be. These injuries can include sprained fingers, hands, and wrists; abrasions and lacerations; eye injuries; and contusions on your chest, arms, face, and legs. Most importantly, airbags can cause internal trauma that may include bleeding and brain injuries.
- Did your seatbelt tighten and/or lock? Though properly worn seatbelts seldom cause injuries themselves and can prevent much more serious injuries than would result if they weren’t worn at all, they can produce their own problems depending on the seriousness of the crash. This can include bruises, abdominal lacerations, chest wounds, whiplash, head and neck injuries, dislocations and fractures, internal organ damage, spinal injuries, and paralysis.
- During the crash, did your head snap backwards and/or forwards? This kind of movement can result in neck damage and whiplash—which is all to common in accidents and can have life-long effects. Symptoms of whiplash may include neck pain and stiffness; loss of range of motion; headaches; pain in the shoulder, upper back, and/or arms; tingling and/or numbness in the arms; dizziness; blurred vision; ear ringing; sleep disturbances; irritability; difficulty concentrating; memory problems; and depression.
- Did your head hit anything? Concussions can also have lifelong consequences. Symptoms of concussions can include headaches; ringing in the ears; nausea and/or vomiting; feelings of sluggishness, drowsiness, fogginess and/or confusion; balance problems, dizziness, and/or double or blurry vision; light and/or noise sensitivity; concentration and/or memory problems; irritability; and sleep disturbances.
- Did you hit your knee on the dashboard or jam your wrist on the steering wheel? In other words, did your extremities hit anything in the car. Check them for pain and/or stiffness. Sprains and hairline fractures are common after car crashes and are not as obvious as more serious bone breaks. Though they may seem minor, it’s important to immobilize injured extremities as quickly as possible to prevent further damage and encourage the healing process.
Remember, when you’ve been in a wreck, thoroughly assess your body first before evaluating everything else. And if you do need care for injuries after a car crash, come to one of our Accident and Injury clinics near you ASAP. The sooner we take care of you, the sooner you can be back to feeling great again!