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3 Signs You Should See a Doctor After a Car Accident

February 25, 2024

If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you may have told your loved ones that the car looks a lot worse than you do.

But should you actually see a doctor after your car accident to make sure nothing serious is wrong? We asked a neurosurgeon for advice.

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You may not feel the physical effects of a car accident right away.

The best advice is to listen to your body and know it takes a day or two to feel the full brunt of the accident, says Bernardo De Andrada, MD, with the Ayer Neuroscience Institute locations in Norwich and Mystic.

It’s common to wake up the day after an accident and feel worse than you did just hours after it, he continues.

“Patients often think they’ve emerged from a car accident without a scratch, but their bodies might later tell a different story,” says Dr. De Andrada.

> Related: 6 Ways to Treat Back Pain at Home

A car accident could worsen symptoms from certain conditions.

Certain pre-existing conditions could flare up as a result of a car accident, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Disc degeneration
  • Stenosis, or narrowing, of the spinal canal
  • Radiculopathy, or a pinched nerve

“Sometimes, patients have chronic conditions like arthritis in the neck or back and the accident exacerbates the symptoms. In that case, they could notice pain from muscle spasms hours or even days later,” Dr. De Andrada says. “Also, patients who have had spinal fusions or other spinal operations can experience that delayed pain.”

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3 signs you should see a doctor after a car accident.

Dr. De Andrada suggests checking in with a doctor if you experience any of these issues after a car accident:

  1. Feel pain – either new or different than normal – in your back, neck or shoulders. This is especially true if the pain radiates to your arm or leg
  2. Experience new numbness anywhere in the body.
  3. Discover new and/or focal weakness affecting the way you move or causing tremors or paralysis.

You can be checked right after an accident in the emergency room, an urgent care center or by your primary care provider.

A doctor can help with any car accident-related pain – even if it doesn’t happen right away.

If you don’t feel the need for care immediately after the accident, you still might find you need medical care for issues stemming from the accident later, Dr. De Andrada adds.

When you visit a doctor for accident-related back and neck pain, you’ll undergo a complete assessment, and possibly imaging of the painful area, to find anything serious that needs attention, he says. A primary care provider may refer you to a back specialist or neurologist for a more advanced opinion.

Either provider can help with pain relief by prescribing medication or treatment such as physical therapy.

“A doctor will evaluate for acute injury and rule out serious conditions. Either way we’re here to reassure the patient,” Dr. De Andrada says.