Most Common Internal Injuries Caused by Car Accidents

Jul 18, 2022

nausea-after-a-car-accidentIf you have ever been in a car accident, you know how easy it is to be hurt from even a minor collision. Injuries from car accidents can range from mild strains to potentially fatal, but when injuries are to the internal organs, the risk for serious complications increases substantially. Internal injury is defined as an injury to any structure inside the chest, abdomen, and skull. Internal organs are defined as the brain, the heart, the lungs, the liver, spleen, intestines, and other organs. Internal injury can also include damage to the bones, muscles, and connective tissue of the head, neck, and torso. These structures are vital for sustaining life and function, so any harm to them can have significant consequences.

What Factors Influence Internal Injury in a Car Accident?

The mechanical forces exerted on the body during an accident are significant factors in predicting how severe an internal injury will be. These forces lead to the mechanism of injury (MOI), i.e., how the body was injured during the accident. MOI accounts for the speed at which the body and the vehicle are traveling, the force of deceleration, the mass of the body, the direction of the impact, whether or not the body was restrained, and more. If a person has a high body mass index (BMI) and is ejected from a vehicle at a high rate of speed due to being unrestrained, the risk for catastrophic internal injury is much higher than a person who is safely restrained by a seat belt, remains inside the vehicle, and was traveling at lower speed. What happens to the body during a car accident is what determines the pattern and type of injury.

What Are the Most Common Internal Injuries?


Most Common Internal InjuriesA fracture is a break in a bone that can be completely through the entire bone or just a crack. Either way, fractures require prompt care and attention from a skilled orthopedic doctor such as those at AICA Atlanta. The location of a fracture in the internal compartments of the body, such as the torso and head, makes them even more serious than one in the arms and legs would be. Fractures can be caused by the blunt force trauma of the accident as the body hits the steering wheel or windshield, or is struck by objects from within the car that become projectile. Crush injuries can also occur when there is a heavy impact, and the car is crushed by the force of the other vehicle or object being hit.

Skull fracture

The skull is made up of several bones that have fused together by adulthood, creating a hollow ball that contains the brain, with one large opening at the base. Everything inside the skull fits nicely until there is an injury with bleeding and swelling. Suddenly there isn’t room for the brain and fluid inside anymore. This can cause serious injury to the brain as it is squeezed within the skull itself, creating intense pressure on the delicate tissues of the brain. Elevated intracranial pressure, the pressure inside the skull, can lead to devastating brain injury and long-term impairment. It is very important to seek immediate medical attention in the case of a suspected skull fracture. Signs of a skull fracture can include a sudden loss of consciousness, visible injury to the scalp, bruising behind the ears or under the eyes, severe headache, changes in vision, and changes in the ability to respond to stimuli and answer questions.

Rib Fracture

Ribs are most commonly fractured due to compression from the steering wheel and/or seat belt. While very painful, most rib fractures are not life-threatening; however they should be evaluated by a skilled car accident specialist who can identify any changes on imaging. In severe cases, a rib fracture can puncture a lung and cause what is called an acute pneumothorax. This occurs when air in the lung cavity presents as sudden shortness of breath, pain, pallor, and a blue tint to the skin. Because rib fractures are painful, they can also limit how much someone breathes, potentially leading to pneumonia.

Spinal Injury

One of the most common forms of injury to the internal structures of the body during a car accident is to the spinal column. The spine is the main stabilizer in our bodies, and injury to this structure can cause significant debilitation and pain. A complex structure of specialized bones, the spine fits neatly together in a succession of vertebrae, each with its own hollow core for the spinal cord, spaces for nerves that extend from the cord, and discs that pad the vertebrae in between.


Whiplash is a frequently occurring injury to the neck that is more likely when a car accident involves a rear-end collision. The force of the impact causes the head to move forward and then backward abruptly and out of alignment with the torso, straining or tearing the tissues in the neck. This can lead to pain, stiffness, numbness, and tingling of extremities, and symptoms similar to those of a concussion. Whiplash is of particular concern because it is often not noticed right away, and so people may delay care. Once symptoms arise, it is very important to seek care from a doctor experienced in caring for those after a car accident to prevent long-term complications of whiplash and other injuries.

Herniated or Bulging Discs

Herniated or bulging discs occur when the cartilaginous disc between vertebrae ruptures or is forced out of alignment. If a disc should herniate in the direction of the space that contains the spinal cord, that can put pressure on the cord itself, causing pain and impeding normal function. If the vertebra is injured, it can impinge upon the spinal cord or the spinal nerves that exit the cord at that level. This can cause severe pain in the location of the injury but also shooting down the spine and into the extremities. Best diagnosed by a specialist like the doctors at AICA Atlanta, a spinal injury requires skill and current knowledge to treat for optimal outcomes.

Soft Tissue Injury 

Soft tissue includes the blood vessels, the organs, and the ligaments and tendons that hold the skeleton together. Injury to any of these structures can have significant complications that can lead to disability and even death. The vast majority of these are not life-threatening, but can come with long rehabilitation that is best managed by a specialist in the care of those after a car accident. The doctors at AICA Atlanta are ready to guide you safely through this process.

Ruptured Blood Vessels

The main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body is called the aorta. It is the largest artery in the body, and any injury to it can cause catastrophic loss of blood. The most common injury to this artery is called a dissection, in which one layer of the artery tears and the blood then fills the space between the other layers. Signs and symptoms of an aortic dissection include sudden loss of consciousness, pallor, cold, clammy skin, stabbing abdominal pain (in the case of abdominal aortic dissection), a pulsatile mass in the belly, loss of pulse or change in color to the extremities, very low blood pressure, and very high heart rate. Should this occur, it is a medical emergency, and the individual can die very quickly. Seeking immediate medical care is imperative.

Tears in smaller blood vessels can also occur and may result in alterations in blood flow to limbs and organs. This will present as pain, bruising (due to the build-up of blood in the tissue), pallor, cold, clammy skin, and changes in the color and/or pulses in a limb. These injuries can be hard to detect right away and so require a skilled physician to detect. AICA Atlanta offers the kind of advanced imaging services needed to diagnose such injuries in their office, without the need for an expensive emergency room visit.

Organ Injury 

Some of the most serious internal injuries in a car accident are from organ injury, such as bruising and tears in the spleen, liver, and lungs. These tears can quickly lead to a dangerous loss of blood inside the compartments of the body. As with other car accident injuries, the damage is related to the impact of objects and the velocity at which they travel. Signs and symptoms depend on the organ damaged, but generally, there will be externally visible bruising over the site. Injury to the lung will usually include shortness of breath and pallor; the liver will also cause pallor due to blood loss and the abdomen may swell; splenic lacerations will cause rapid blood loss into the abdomen and severe pain; kidney injury will lead to blood in the urine and severe flank pain. These are all injuries that require immediate medical attention.

Brain Injury 

The most common brain injury in a car accident is a concussion, which can lead to post-concussion syndrome if not treated promptly. Concussions often present with nausea and vomiting, severe headache, alterations in vision, and difficulty thinking or confusion. There may be a temporary loss of memory of what happened before, during, and after the accident. Emotional changes, such as anxiety, moodiness, irritability, and depression, may also occur. In some cases, these symptoms can persist long after the initial concussion has healed, leading to what is called post-concussion syndrome. Prompt and appropriate medical care for concussions can prevent the development of long-term complications in many cases.

More serious internal injuries to the brain include bleeding inside the skull due to torn blood vessels and stroke due to obstructions in blood flow related to swelling. Signs and symptoms of serious brain injury include a sudden change in consciousness, changes in the appearance of the pupils, changes in speech and ability to respond, severe headache (often described as the worst headache ever), change in visions, nausea and vomiting, low blood pressure, and increased heart rate. AICA Atlanta offers neurological imaging in their office, allowing for prompt diagnosis and care.

When To Seek Care

If someone suspects they have been injured in a car accident, they should seek immediate medical care. Knowing when to seek care after that can be hard, but in general, if pain persists or there is an impaired ability to function due to the injury or pain, it is time to seek professional care such as that offered at AICA Atlanta. Many times, people will feel fine immediately after a car accident, even if they have been seriously injured. The body responds to the accident with chemicals that can mask pain, even from ourselves. For this reason, it is generally best to err on the side of caution and seek a professional evaluation whenever you have been involved in an accident. Some injuries are not fully evident until a day or two after the initial accident, and these delayed injuries such as whiplash and concussion can still have serious effects.

Why Is Seeking Care From A Car Accident Doctor So Important?

Seeking Care From A Car Accident Doctor So ImportantInjuries related to car accidents are a significant risk for disability and death, so seeking prompt medical care can reduce the chances of long-term financial, physical, and emotional problems as a result. Chronic back pain due to injury is a leading cause of disability in the United States. Pain and functional impairment can reduce quality of life and earning potential. Seeing a physician who specializes in identifying and treating injuries that occur in car accidents can prevent long-term complications that carry significant tolls. Our office has the ability to perform necessary imaging, interventions for pain relief, and techniques to restore function promptly.

The doctors at AICA Atlanta are well trained to assist you in the diagnostic and healing processes. Contact us today to schedule your consultation today.