Neurology Insights

Car Accident? When to See a Neurologist

The Body During Impact

Injuries from accidents vary significantly, but you must take all injuries seriously to avoid further complications.

Some of the most common injuries to the nervous system are:

  • Neuropathy: When nerve twigs (the smallest nerve fibers) in the peripheral nervous system become compressed, severed, or crushed; causing pain, weakness, and numbness
  • Radiculopathy: When nerves leaving the spinal cord become compressed, causing pain, weakness, tingling, and numbness in the neck, back, arms, or legs
  • Spinal cord injury: Damage to the spinal cord through trauma
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI), Mild TBI, and Concussion; it is very important to realize that a TBI can occur even when there is no loss of consciousness.
  • Soft tissue damage to the muscles along the spine, neck, or back including sprains, strains, and whiplash
  • Whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) from untreated soft tissue injuries
  • Neck, spine, or skull fractures 
  • Slipped, cracked, or herniated discs in the spinal column
  • Neck cuts and lacerations 
  • Acute neck and back pain 

Why is it important to see a doctor even if you feel okay?

Symptoms of an injury don’t always appear right away. These variances result from the severity of your injury, shock after the accident, and your pain tolerance. When you get into an accident, your body releases endorphins that help you stay calm and in control. Once the endorphins and adrenaline start to wear off, you may begin to feel symptoms from an injury. In fact, there is often continued swelling of soft tissues for the first 4 to 7 days after an injury, so symptoms may continue to worsen after the initial trauma.

I cannot tell you how many patients I have seen over the years who report chronic migraines and neck pain, only to discover a slipped disc and other injuries (from a previous car accident) that could have been effectively treated if only the problem had been taken care of right away.

Know the Signs – What should I look out for?

Please pay close attention to symptoms after an accident so that you can provide your medical provider with as much information as they need to make a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Common symptoms include:

  • Headache and migraine
  • Feeling confused, dizzy, and “spaced out.”
  • Numbness, tingling, and weakness in an extremity
  • Trouble comprehending or retaining information
  • Feeling irritated or anxious
  • Ringing of the ears or hearing a humming noise
  • Hypersensitivity to light
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain and soreness – especially in the neck, shoulders, and back
  • Tingling, numb, or stinging sensations in the arms, fingers, legs, or toes
  • Loss of feeling in the arms, fingers, legs, or toes
  • Slurred or hard to understand speech patterns
  • Balance issues
  • Severe anxiety driving or riding in a car

What type of doctor should I visit?

After a car accident, the most common injuries are soft tissue injuries, head injuries, and mental and emotional injuries.

That said, the first person you should call after 911 is an emergency room doctor, urgent care, or primary doctor. They can recommend you visit another healthcare provider like a neurologist, surgeon, chiropractor, physical therapist, or other specialist.

Why should I seek the care of a Neurologist?

When we think of neurologists, we often think of the brain. And while the brain does play a key role, neurologists also deal with the entire nervous system, which includes your central nervous system and your whole spinal cord that runs from your brain to the rest of your body. This spinal cord is responsible for sending signals throughout the body that control speech and movement. It is also responsible for pain signals that one can feel after impact.

Neurological Testing

A neurologist will first do a complete examination, including obtaining an entire history of the event and your overall health, followed by a thorough neurological exam. After this, and based on your condition, your Neurologist may order the following tests to assess your internal health from the car accident:

  • X-rays to check for a fracture and determine how to treat it. Doctors may also request one to determine if you have a dislocated joint or other damage to your skeleton, such as spinal cord injuries, or if there is any instability in your spinal column from the trauma.
  • MRIs evaluate any damage to your bones, soft tissues, organs, and nerves. This test is very sensitive in diagnosing spinal cord and disc injuries.
  • CT scans diagnose any trauma you have suffered to your organs, internal bleeding in the brain, damage to the ligaments or tendons, and severed or bruised nerves; often, this will be done in the emergency room as this type of scan is much quicker than an MRI scan.

Upon the results of these tests, your Neurologist can make a plan for you; this can include a variety of physical therapy, chiropractic care, medications, injections, and other treatments to help the healing process. Occasionally, additional opinions from a pain specialist, neurosurgeon, orthopedist, or others may be necessary.

Can I wait to see if symptoms appear or if my symptoms get worse?

It is always a wise decision to get evaluated immediately after an accident. If left unchecked, injury symptoms can become worse or even irreversible. Also, a quick visit to a medical provider will be critical when dealing with insurance should you have sustained an injury that requires professional care.

At Neurology Office, we hope this serves as a reminder always to wear a seat belt and practice safe driving practices. You may save a life…possibly or own!

The reality is that some accidents are unavoidable, and if you do find yourself in this challenging situation, it’s crucial to have a game plan. Always remember to:

  1. Call 911 Immediately 
  2. Collect any evidence
  3. Report to your insurance 
  4. See your primary care physician or a neurologist for evaluation
  5. Hire an attorney, if necessary 


A message from Dr. Kandel

Being an aware, mindful, and defensive driver is the first thing to do when you get behind the wheel. My question to my patients is always, “if it was a loved one, what would you want them to do? Would you want them to get checked out and examined?” If the answer is yes, you deserve the same care. Getting information and finding out what is wrong is never a bad thing. The quicker an injury is addressed, the quicker it can be remedied!

Feel free to share this with the people in your life who may benefit from this information! For more insights on neurology, check out our weekly tips on our Neurology Office Facebook page.

“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”

Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates

Concierge medicine without the concierge price”

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