experiencing chronic pain after a car accident

Car accidents create a lasting impact that extends far beyond the day of the collision. Especially when that pain lingers beyond an expected period of time due to an undiagnosed nerve injury.

When looking for answers to questions about chronic pain after a car accident, it’s natural to head straight to your favorite search engine. But most results populate with options for settlement lawyers, injury lawyers and chiropractic clinics offering assessments—not medical explanations for the source of your pain.

It’s important to understand the injuries sustained and their related symptoms. Meet with your doctor to discuss how you’re feeling after your accident. During your appointment, don’t hold back about your symptoms. Being thorough about what you’re experiencing isn’t complaining, it’s proactive. Be sure to ask about the potential for nerve damage.

sources of nerve damage from a car accident

When a car accident occurs, there are many common injuries and pain that can impact those involved, including nerve damage. But because there isn’t always visible trauma with nerve damage—skin doesn’t have to break for the damage to happen—it’s not always obvious upon first examination.

When pain lingers after proper and immediate medical attention, nerve damage might be the culprit. Nerve damage occurs when nerves are cut, compressed or stretched—all of which can happen as the result of a motor vehicle accident.

Chronic pain and nerve damage may also occur due to a neuroma. A neuroma is a tangled mass of nerve and scar tissue that may form when nerve damage, either from the injury itself or during a corrective surgical procedure, goes unrecognized or isn’t properly repaired.

injuries that can lead to nerve damage

Broken bones and fractures

Nerves travel in close proximity to bones and joints. As a result, broken bones and fractures can often lead to nerve injuries. Sometimes nerves are stretched, cut, bruised or crushed when a bone is fractured, but it may not be recognized immediately.


Abrasions and lacerations are some of the most prevalent injuries sustained during car accidents. Depending on the severity of the laceration, different layers of the skin and muscle are at risk of injury, but a deep cut from broken glass can also lead to a nerve injury. There are many opportunities for lacerations during a car accident. Even if you visited the ER after your accident, it’s possible a nerve injury wasn’t immediately recognized. As many as 91% of nerve injuries are missed in the ER, and these injuries may lead to chronic pain even after the original wound has healed.

signs and symptoms of nerve damage

Peripheral nerve damage typically presents itself in a few ways.

numbness or tingling

A loss of sensation in the extremities or a constant feeling of “pins and needles” could point to nerve damage. This damage can be caused by pinching of the nerve that occurred upon impact and can lead to chronic pain after an accident.

shooting or radiating pain

Irregular, persistent bouts of pain that originate from a particular location could be a sign that nerves were damaged in the accident.


It’s important to pay close attention to the location and severity of headache pain after a car accident. While it could just be stress-related, it might also be the result of a compressed nerve.

If your injuries do not heal with time or after physical therapy (as most acute injuries should), it might be time to consider that the damage was far greater than simple strains or bruises.

nerve repair is possible

In the past, surgical options for repairing nerves were limited and had variable rates of success in alleviating nerve pain or restoring function. Procedures that only cut the nerve but do not repair it, leave the nerve with the potential to form a future painful neuroma and don’t give you the chance to regain sensation or function.

Thanks to advances in nerve surgery, living with nerve damage and the associated pain isn’t your only option. Many types of peripheral nerve injuries, especially injuries that can be linked to a previous surgery or injury, can likely be treated surgically.

Depending on the specific nerve damage, a nerve surgeon can repair the nerve by either reconnecting the nerve with a nerve graft to allow restoration of normal signals to the brain; isolating the nerve end with a nerve cap to reduce the potential for neuroma formation; or occasionally rerouting the nerves.

If you think you are experiencing chronic pain due to nerve damage from a car accident, you may be a candidate for nerve repair surgery.


nerve injury after a fracture

From car crashes to kitchen accidents, there are many common causes of nerve damage and injury. However, an unexpected cause of nerve damage stems from another type of injury: a bone fracture.

Fractures occur when a bone breaks or splinters due to trauma, overuse or particular diseases that may weaken bones. Much like our skeletal system, the peripheral nerve system runs throughout our body and helps us to function and feel. When one or both systems are damaged, it can be very painful.

when a fracture is more than a fracture

When a bone fractures, there is also risk of damaging the surrounding nerves. In the table below, you can see a collection of common fractures and the corresponding nerves that are at risk of injury, along with signs that nerve damage may have occurred:

fractures or dislocations commonly impacted nerves  clinical signs of damage
 shoulder fracture and/or
 axillary nerve  loss of deltoid contraction (shoulder weakness)
numbness over top of the upper arm
humerus (arm) fracture  radial nerve  wrist drop
numbness over the back of hand
 supracondylar (elbow) fracture
in children
median nerve
(anterior interrosseous nerve)
 loss of thumb and index finger flexion
Inability to make an “OK” sign
 forearm fracture  posterior interrosseous nerve  fingers and thumb drop (at the knuckles)
deviated wrist extension
 hip dislocation  sciatic nerve
(cpn component)
 foot drop
numbness over the back of foot
 knee dislocation  common peroneal nerve  foot drop
numbness over the back of foot

fractures don’t discriminate

There are two types of fractures: open and closed.

A closed fracture does not break the skin, whereas an open fracture does. Both types can lead to nerve damage.

Closed fractures “may be complicated by associated peripheral nerve injury. However, because clinical information is limited, determining the best course of treatment is difficult,” according to one study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

The study also found that people with open fractures can experience complications with peripheral nerve injuries. Patients who haven’t fully recovered function or feeling after 3 months should talk to their doctor about the potential of nerve damage.

When either kind of fracture is repaired and the course of action around the nerves is uncertain, the nerves are often left to try to heal on their own. Nerve injuries can also occur during surgery to fix fractures, such as when using pins to hold broken pieces together.

what this means for nerves

When doctors are focused on setting bones, stitching wounds and tending to other traumatic injuries, it’s not always possible to give attention to the more minute details that come with preserving nerve function. Nerve repair is a very niche and complicated area of expertise, and not every surgeon is fully trained on its nuances. So while your ER doctor is focused on your immediate or acute injury, a surgeon who specializes in microsurgery will have more in-depth training to perform nerve surgery.

Without proper treatment, nerves might not heal properly on their own. They could remain compressed, stretched or severed. Damaged nerves can lead to neuromas (a tangle of nerve and scar tissue) as they try to heal themselves.

When this happens, pain caused by nerve damage can linger long after the bone is set and healed. But just because that pain lingers, doesn’t mean there’s no solution for relieving that pain.

what this means for you

Lasting nerve pain doesn’t have to be your normal. Nerve repair surgery is possible.

Depending on the type of damage, a surgeon can repair the nerve by either reconnecting the nerve to allow the restoration of normal signals to the brain, isolating the nerve end to stop it from growing, or rerouting the nerves.

If you think you have nerve injuries and pain resulting from a fracture, nerve repair surgery might be the right choice for you.