How Long Can Injuries Show Up After A Car Accident?

We all know that car accidents can be traumatic events that cause severe injuries.  Sometimes, car accident injuries are apparent as soon as the wreck is over.  For example, if you’ve suffered a broken bone or a burn in a car accident, you’ll know right away.  However, other car accident injuries may not have immediate symptoms and only become apparent over time. 

The truth is that a person injured in a car accident may not even know they have been injured for days, weeks, or even months after the accident.  Failing to receive medical treatment for any of these injuries can not only impact your health but any car accident lawsuit you may have. 

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you may thus be wondering: “How long can injuries show up after a car accident?”  Read below to find out more and how to best protect yourself.    

Common Car Accident Injuries that don’t “Show Up” Immediately

In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, your adrenaline is probably pumping, and you very well may not experience any pain no matter to the extent of your injuries.  That’s why any injury you may experience after a car accident may not have “immediate” symptoms. 

However, some car accident injuries may not show symptoms for days, weeks, or longer for a variety of reasons.  Below are some of the more common injuries that may have such delayed symptoms.

Concussion from Car Accident


Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury where the brain “bounces” against the inside of a person’s skull.  A commonly suffered injury, concussions can cause a variety of symptoms that may not show up until days after a car accident.  Common symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Headache or the sensation of head “pressure”
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Stunned or dazed appearance
  • Loss of memory
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Sleepiness or sluggishness
  • Problems answering simple questions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Depression
  • Concentration issues

No concussion is a “minor” injury.  All brain injuries should be treated with the utmost seriousness. 

Muscle, Tendon, and Ligament Injuries (Soft Tissue)

Soft tissue injuries refer to injuries to muscle, tendons, ligament, and similar body tissue. Soft tissue injuries are perhaps the most suffered type of car accident injuries.  These injuries include sprains, strains, rips, tears, and bruising of muscles, tendons, or ligaments.  In a car accident, the most commonly affected areas of the body include ankles, knees, back and neck (spinal cord), wrists, elbows, and shoulders. 

A soft tissue injury may not become apparent for many days or weeks after a car accident.  When symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of motion or movement
  • Acute pain

Sometimes, these symptoms are triggered by everyday movements.  For example, a car accident may have caused a slipped or bulging disc in your spinal cord that did not cause symptoms for weeks.  However, 15 days after the car accident, you bend over to tie your shoes, and your back simply “gives out.”  Many people only become aware that they’ve suffered these injuries in these types of circumstances. 

Person in car dealing with whiplash


Many people believe whiplash is an injury in and of itself.  However, whiplash is simply a term used to describe what happens to your body in many car accidents, especially rear-end car accidents.  In these types of car accidents, a person’s body is flung forward while their head and neck temporarily remain motionless.  Almost immediately thereafter, the head and neck “whip” forward causing a whip-like motion—hence the term whiplash. 

Whiplash may cause a variety of brain, spine, and soft tissue injuries.  Some of these are immediately apparent but some don’t show symptoms for weeks or longer.  Common symptoms of whiplash include the symptoms above for concussion and soft tissue injuries. 

Internal Organ Injuries

Any internal organ may suffer an injury in a car accident.  Such injuries may include cuts (lacerations), bruising (contusions), or punctures or collapse to organs such as the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, appendix, bladder, stomach, intestines, spleen, pancreas, or brain.  Symptoms of an internal organ injury may take hours or days to become apparent and may include:

  • Swelling
  • Abdominal pressure or pain
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Deep colored bruising
  • Disorientation
  • Constipation

Injury to an internal organ can be life-threatening.  If you believe you may have suffered an injury to an internal organ, you should seek immediate medical attention. 

PTSD and Psychological Injuries

What often goes unnoticed for months after a car accident are psychological injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a psychological disorder where people experience episodes of the “fight or flight” response well after they’ve experienced a traumatic event.  Many people who suffer from PTSD after a car accident don’t realize they’re suffering from PTSD until months later. 

Symptoms of car accident-related PTSD may include:

  • Flashbacks of the car accident
  • Problems controlling anger and other emotions
  • Recurring and intrusive thoughts or emotions
  • Nightmares
  • Always feeling “on edge” or tense
  • Startled easily
  • Sleep issues
  • Avoidance of driving or other triggering events 

Other psychological injuries may include anxiety and depression. 

The sad fact is that many psychological injuries go unnoticed and untreated for so long.  Whether it’s because the focus is primarily on physical health and treatment or because of the stigma related to psychological injuries, many people suffer in silence.  If you’re suffering from a psychological injury, help is always available. 

When to Seek Medical Treatment

When you’ve been in a car accident, it is always best to seek medical treatment as soon as possible.  This holds true whether you’ve suffered an obvious and severe injury or whether you think you’ve suffered no injury at all. 

Why?  As explained above, many injuries aren’t immediately apparent.  If you seek medical attention, diagnostic tests (such as MRIs, x-rays, etc.) can be performed to determine whether you have suffered an injury without symptoms.  It may very well be that you have not suffered an injury, but, as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.  Plus, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing you have not suffered an injury. 

On the other hand, if diagnostic testing reveals that you have suffered an injury, you can immediately begin receiving the medical care you need. 

There is no good reason to not seek medical care after a car accident. Your health should always be your number one concern.

Medical help after car accident

If I do not Receive Medical Treatment after a Car Accident, can it Affect my Case?

Yes!  Putting aside the dangers of not seeking medical care after a car accident, not seeking medical care immediately after a car accident can negatively impact any lawsuit you may have. 

The insurance company may look for any excuse not to pay on your claims.  If you do not seek medical treatment but suffer injuries, they may claim your injuries are not serious or were not caused by the car accident. 

An Example

Let’s assume you’ve been injured in a T-bone accident while driving in West Virginia.  You’re lucky.  While the car accident is a bad one and your shoulder hurts and shows some bruising, you think you’re otherwise fine.  You think it’s nothing a few Tylenols and a few days’ rest can’t cure and don’t seek medical treatment. 

Unfortunately, over the next couple of months, your shoulder pain does not get better and in fact starts feeling worse.  You then start experiencing a variety of unexplained ankle issues including tenderness and swelling.  When you seek medical care 2 months after the accident, you find out you’ve suffered a torn rotator cuff in your shoulder and a partially torn ligament in your ankle.

When you seek compensation from the other driver’s insurance company, they claim that your lack of treatment for the shoulder injury made the injury much worse than it would have if you had timely sought treatment and that your ankle injury wasn’t even the result of the car accident.  As such, the offer they make you is far below what you’re entitled to, and you get nowhere talking with the insurance company. 

When you take your case to a car accident lawyer, they say they can definitely help but caution you that these are issues in your case that will affect the compensation you can reasonably expect at resolution.  What would have been a relatively straightforward case, if there ever is one, is now one fraught with issues simply because you did not seek medical treatment. 

GKT’s Car Accident Lawyers Can Help

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in West Virginia, Ohio, or Pennsylvania, call the car accident lawyers at Gold, Khourey & Turak.  We offer free case reviews and only collect a fee if we obtain compensation for you.  Our knowledgeable and experienced car accident lawyers are available 24/7 via Live Chat, by phone at (304) 845-9750, or online through our online case form

Christopher M. Turak Attorney Headshot

Christopher Turak

Car Accident Attorney

Christopher Turak is a partner and car accident lawyer at Gold, Khourey & Turak.  His practice includes wrongful death and personal injury, with a special commitment to representing victims injured or killed by drunk or impaired drivers.  Chris has received an AV Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which is their highest peer rating standard.  This rating signifies that Chris is ranked at the highest level of professional excellence for his legal expertise, communication skills, and ethical standards.