Don’t think your hurt? Know the possible long-term or delayed effects of car accidents

A hurt driver after a car accident

Long-term effects or delayed effects of car accidents can be highly common. In fact, 4.8 million people consulted medical professionals for car accident injuries in 2020.

Some patients immediately seek medical attention for injuries from car accident injuries, motor vehicle accidents, or motor vehicle collisions, but others believe they’re “not that hurt.” However, not getting care immediately or at all can impact your health and comfort in the long run. As general advice, we recommend seeing a chiropractor or other physician specializing in repairing your body after a car accident, not someone who will prescribe muscle relaxers and send you home. If you don’t seek care right after your accident, there could be delayed or long-term effects that are not fun.

Long-Term Effects of Car Accidents

Long-term effects are considered effects and injuries from an accident that last longer than one year (but not forever). After a car accident, you may notice the effects later on. If you don’t seek medical attention right away, that could mean you’ll live your life with pain and discomfort for far longer than is necessary, including these long-term effects:

Chronic Pain

Car accidents typically result in more than one injury. With multiple injuries, chronic pain is much more likely to develop. One out of every five people who go to the ER for an auto accident are on a chronic pain trajectory—meaning your case is following the pattern that leads to chronic pain. Of course, this can be true of any significant trauma from sports (skiing, for example)—some patients don’t come away from injuries with chronic pain, but there are risk factors, too. The most vulnerable population for chronic pain are:
  • Females
  • Older individuals
  • People that are overweight with an increased BMI, when injury can lead to inflammation (or they have comorbidities like high blood pressure that slows healing down)
  • People in a lower socioeconomic level

Chronic Effects From Whiplash

Whiplash is a bad gift that keeps on giving— we went into the details about whiplash in a recent blog, but in general, whiplash brings more headaches, shoulder stiffness, and those who have had whiplash are twice as likely to develop chronic pain. In fact, there’s an increased risk of psychological issues, as well, including:
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Cognitive problems
It’s also worth noting here (like we did in this blog on concussions) that with TBIs (traumatic brain injuries)—concussions almost always include some form of whiplash. Additionally, people with pre-existing PTSD and other psychological conditions are more likely to have worsening symptoms.  

Difficulty Walking

Patients with ankle or foot fractures from car accidents will likely have difficulty walking up to 12 months after the accident. So even if you “walk away” from the accident—it’s still good to get a full exam to make sure you’re good to go back to your regular activities.  

Factors The Increase Potential Long-Term Effects

Not everybody experiences delayed or long-term effects after a car accident. But some factors make having long-term effects more likely, and they include:
  • Age: The older in age, the more slowly recovery happens.
  • Gender: Females are more likely to develop long-term effects from car accidents.
  • Socioeconomic: Those struggling with unemployment, underemployment (and possibly a lower education level) typically don’t have the opportunity or financial ability to see a doctor when they need it most.
  • Family Support: Family support (or lack thereof) can significantly impact regular daily activities. Caring for an injured family member is a heavy burden and may cause stress for the injured person and the caregiver.
  • Pre-existing Conditions: Long-term effects are much more likely if the patient is already struggling with another injury or condition (such as high blood pressure that prevents quick healing).
  • Previous Car Accidents: Car accidents compound. This means that the 5-6 accidents any person has in their lifetime add up. The more accidents you’ve had, and the more severe injuries you’ve sustained increase the likelihood of developing long-term symptoms exponentially. Also, if you are still healing from a previous accident and get into a second one, that can create a compounding effect, too, dramatically increasing healing time.

Can the Long-Term Effects of a Car Accident Improve?

Yes, most long-term car accident effects can improve. Regarding timeline, sprains and strains can improve within one year of the accident. And while severe traumatic brain injuries may have lasting effects, they can become less severe over time. Improvement is much more likely when you pursue medical attention.  


Chiropractic care can be combined with other therapies like physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage. Together, they can help return you to pre-accident status by increasing motion, strength, and stability; and reducing pain and tension.  


Along with psychologists and therapists, this branch of medicine can help manage anxiety, depression, and symptoms of stress. This is particularly helpful to pursue if you detect PTSD or other psychological difficulties.  


If you have cognitive or visual impairment from a concussion or traumatic brain injury, see a neurologist or a vision therapist to determine what the next best step is in your healing.  


Surgery, injections, or other procedures performed by orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons can help with more severe joint, muscle, disc, or nerve complaints that more conservative measures haven’t solved.  


If you hope to manage pain and symptoms from your car accident injuries, you may want to seek out pain specialists and physiatrists.  

The bottom line here?

Seek medical attention immediately after your accident. Get checked out and make sure everything in your body is functioning normally. Even a small misalignment or a seemingly small injury can become something bigger later. Your body may begin the healing process, but it may not be healing optimally—not as quickly and not in the best way. With long-term effects, you’ll want a whole team approach to your health and wellness after a car accident.