Don’t Ignore These Warning Signs if You’ve Been Involved in a Car Accident


Albuquerque is a dangerous place to operate a vehicle.

Albuquerque drivers are routinely placed atop the worst drivers in the country list.

If you live here you know why.

Every month our city has close to 500 motor vehicle accidents with injuries.

That’s with injuries. That doesn’t include car accidents where there were no initial injures reported, the involved parties exchange insurance information, file a police report and then go their separate ways.

But just because injuries were not immediately reported at the accident scene doesn’t mean the parties involved weren’t injured.

An accident is a traumatic experience. During an accident, our bodies are flooded with hormones. These hormones can sometimes mask life threatening or debilitating injuries. When you’re involved in what your body perceives as a life-threatening or stressful situation like a car accident, Adrenaline also known as Epinephrine, the hormone responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction is released by the adrenal glands. Your heart races, your bronchial passages dilate, the body shunts blood to major organs like the heart and the lungs, you become capable of amazing feats of strength and you don’t feel pain because your endocrine system is in survival mode.

This hormonal response can last up to an hour.

That’s why it’s critical that you seek medical attention first after being involved in an accident. You might not be feeling any pain but you could be severely injured.  

Traumatic Brain Injuries or TBI and spinal cord injuries are some of the most common types of injuries, suffered in car accidents. They can range from the relatively minor to severe depending on the type of collision. Together brain and spinal cord injuries account for a large majority of hospitalizations resulting from vehicle accidents.

According to the CDC, “motor vehicle crashes ranked third overall as the leading cause of TBI-related ED visits, hospitalizations, and deaths. When looking at just TBI-related deaths, motor vehicle crashes were the third leading cause in 2013.”

Vehicle accidents cause 49% of all spinal cord injuries.

Often the effects of these types of injuries don’t surface right away. Drivers can easily suffer a concussion or a fractured vertebra and not realize it until days later when they begin experiencing symptoms like numbness and tingling in their hands, confusion, trouble thinking clearly and headaches.

Brain and spinal cord injuries can manifest with a variety of different signs and symptoms so it’s important to seek treatment right away, don’t try to push through the pain, write off the accident and take a settlement from an insurance company before consulting an experienced personal injury attorney in Albuquerque.

We’ve put together a quick guide to understand some common and also not so common types of brain and spinal cord injuries that can happen in a car accident. As well the signs, symptoms and common medical terminology you might hear if you’ve suffered a brain or spinal cord injury.

Head Injuries

Distilled to the most basic of categories there are two types of head injuries: open and closed

Open head injuries are self-explanatory and hard to miss.  They are skull fractures and open wounds to the skull.

Closed head injuries are injuries where the skull is left intact but there may be some form of bruising or internal bleeding like in the case of a concussion or epidural hematoma. These types of injuries are easy to miss and sometimes difficult for doctors to diagnose. Closed head injuries will be the focus of this article. Here are several types of closed head injuries that could occur during an accident.  


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Concussions can be caused by any type of unexpected or sudden impact to a person’s head. This sudden impact essentially causes the brain to bounce off the inside of the skull, resulting in a concussion. You might hear the term coup-contra-coup, which is fancy medical jargon for the brain bouncing around inside your skull.

Thanks to the problems of the NFL, public awareness about the diagnosis and treatment of head injuries has been improved and pushed to the forefront of the national consciousness. The average person has a better understanding of the risks of ignoring the signs and symptoms of a concussion.

We now know the dangers of leaving concussions untreated.

Typically, concussions are relatively minor on the head injury spectrum. There is no “cure” for a concussion, doctors usually prescribe rest and urge patients to avoid physical and mental excretion. Recovery can take anywhere from a few days to a week depending on severity.

The days after suffering a concussion are critical because it’s during this time that person is more prone to suffering a successive concussion or possibly a more severe head injury because problems with balance and coordination are common in the days and weeks following the initial one.

Epidural Hematoma

This is a severe head injury that can easily be missed or even misdiagnosed. An epidural hematoma occurs when an artery on the outer layer of the brain or the “dura” bleeds into the brain cavity. As the blood accumulates between the skull and the brain, intracranial pressure increases, decreasing blood flow, leading to permanent damage and even death if left untreated.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Trouble with balance and walking
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Loss of or fluctuating levels of consciousness
  • Irritability or personality changes

This type of injury can be chronic or acute meaning that it can develop slowly or immediately after an accident.

An MRI, CT scan or other type of brain scanning technology will be used to officially diagnosis it and patients will need emergency surgery to treat it.

Subdural Hematoma

A subdural hematoma is very similar to an epidural hematoma the difference being that subdural hematomas are vein bleeds that occur between the layers of the brain called the dura mater and arachnoid mater.

Signs and symptoms are very similar to an epidural hematoma with the main difference being the speed of onset, an epidural hematoma usually takes place much quicker.

Another important differentiating factor is age, epidural hematomas are much more common among 20-45 year olds, where subdural hematomas are more common among people 45 and older.  

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

A subarachnoid hemorrhage is rare but often the result of the type of trauma seen in car accidents. Subarachnoid hemorrhages occur between the arachnoid mater and the pia mater.

It is often characterized by very severe headache or “thunder-clap” headache. Severe neck pain, stiffness can also be present along with nausea and vomiting.

Like during a stroke, the phrase, “time lost is brain lost,” comes into play. With this type of injury receiving treatment quickly is critical.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal Cord Injuries

The spine surrounds and protects the spinal cord from which all the nerves in the body branch off. The spine is made up of 33 bones or vertebrae and divided into four sections: cervical (neck), thoracic, (middle/upper back), lumbar (lower back) and the sacral/coccygeal region (tail bone).

The structure of the spinal column leaves it prone to injury. With the head sitting atop the spinal column like 12- 22-pound bowling ball and the 33 vertebrae stacked on top of each other held together by ligaments and intervertebral discs, when force is applied either laterally or from behind, the head can easily move in different directions from the spine causing a variety of different injuries.  

Newton’s first law of motion states that objects in motion tend to stay in motion and if you’re traveling at 60 miles per hour restrained in a vehicle and immediately come to a complete stop against another object your spine and head are still travelling 60 mph. These violent and sudden impacts can twist, bend and compress the spine in unnatural directions. Even accidents that occur at low speeds can cause severe injuries.

There are two categories of spinal cord injuries, complete and incomplete.

Complete spinal injuries are when the spinal cord is severed resulting in a complete loss of movement, feeling and function below the injury.

Incomplete spinal cord injuries leave some function intact below the level of the injury but can lead to unexplained pain and other problems often in unassociated regions of the body. We’ll focus on incomplete spinal cord injuries. 

The title incomplete can be a little misleading, it covers a wide swath of injuries that can range from severe to so mild it may be hard to tell if the symptoms you’re experiencing are even associated with the accident. Usually the prognosis for incomplete spinal cord injuries is much better and a full recovery is possible with the proper treatment and rehabilitation. Here are the most common types of incomplete spinal cord injuries:

Anterior Cord Syndrome 

Like the name implies Anterior Cord Syndrome is an injury to the front of the spinal cord. It can result when bony fragments of vertebrae break off or when vertebrae is compressed in an accident putting pressure on spinal arteries.

Common symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Loss of motor function
  • Pain, numbness and tingling
  • Loss of feeling or motor function below the level of the injury
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of bowel and urinary function

Seeking treatment immediately is important to facilitate a full recovery. Typically, an MRI will be needed to officially diagnose this type of injury. Treatment also varies and depends largely on the affected area as well as the severity of the injury.

Central Cord Syndrome

Central cord syndrome is most likely to occur when the cervical region is hyperextended. This type of injury could be the result of whiplash and is the most common type of cervical injury.

Symptoms include:

  • Lack of motor control of the arms
  • Sensory loss below the level of the injury
  • Loss of urinary function

Treatment and recovery can take a long time. Spinal immobilization is necessary, with the patient being placed in a cervical collar and movement restricted for up to six weeks while the injury heals.

Recovery will involve physical and occupational therapy to help the victim regain function.

Brown-Séquard Syndrome

Caused by a penetrating injury to only one side of the spinal cord. This type of injury is rare and results in one sided paralysis to the affected side sometimes advancing to complete paralysis. It can cause a loss of sensation and proprioception as well as difficulty feeling temperature.

Treatment for this type of injury is dependent on the original cause. It may involve surgery and the use of steroids is common to help reduce inflammation.


According to the CDC, car accidents are the leading cause of injury and injury related death in the United States and Americans spend more than 1 million days in the hospital each year a result of car accident injuries.  

When you’re involved in a car accident, even a relatively minor fender bender it can be difficult to determine the severity of your injuries. Because of a number of factors injuries are often missed and sometimes the symptoms don’t become evident until much later.

That’s why it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Even if you don’t initially feel pain, when the adrenaline wears off the pain can become severe.

There are numerous myths surrounding car accidents, contrary to popular belief, going to the hospital by ambulance won’t get you seen any quicker in the emergency room than if you drive yourself, the severity of injury or illness determines who is seen first. Another common myth is that, there is some kind of time limit on seeking treatment after an injury.

There isn’t one.

Although, it’s probably best to seek treatment as soon as possible, if you’re involved in a car accident and several days later you begin experiencing neck pain, headaches or confusion it’s possible it could be the result of the car accident. In this case you can seek treatment at an urgent care, through your primary care doctor or even the emergency room.

You could potentially have suffered a brain or spinal injury which are especially difficult to diagnose and treat. However, these types of injuries can quickly become much worse and even lead to death if left untreated. So, if you think you’ve suffered a brain or spinal injury it’s imperative that you seek treatment as soon as possible.  

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