Have you ever been or have you recently been in a car accident and walked away with no known injuries, only to find out there is something wrong? It may be difficult to define, the experience may come and go, but you know there is definitely something abnormal about the way you are feeling.
It may be dizziness, ringing in the ears, loss of balance, or other recurring sensations. These are all signs of vertigo that should not be ignored. You are on the right track if you are thinking you should get these symptoms checked out.
Read on to better understand how vertigo can result from a car accident, how it can be treated, and where you can go for help.
Table of Contents
- Understanding Vertigo and Its Symptoms
- Can a Car Accident Cause Vertigo?
- 3 Possible Causes of Vertigo After a Car Accident
- How Do You Treat Vertigo After a Car Accident?
- Vertigo Symptom and Treatment Timelines
- When Should You See a Medical Professional if Experiencing Vertigo After a Car Accident?
- Cascade Spine & Injury Center: Providing Varied Services To Treat the Root Causes of Vertigo After a Car Accident
Understanding Vertigo and Its Symptoms
Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are spinning while you are not moving — in other words, dizziness. It may be caused by an inner ear issue or by brain or neck trauma.
Some symptoms that regularly appear along with this sensation include:
- Balance issues
- Hearing loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Motion sickness
- Rapid uncontrollable movement of the eyes from side to side (nystagmus)
Can a Car Accident Cause Vertigo?
Car accidents can cause a variety of injuries that lead to vertigo symptoms.
3 Possible Causes of Vertigo After a Car Accident
#1: Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Concussions
If the body experiences severe impact or a sudden forceful change in movement, as during a car accident, this can cause a traumatic brain injury or concussion. Even if the head itself doesn’t receive impact, a sudden change of movement can cause the brain to impact the inside of the skull.
Impacts on the brain or the head can lead to bleeding, bruising, swelling, and the shearing of axonal nerve fibers within the brain. Swelling pushes the brain against the skull and can lead to further injury and cell death, as blood circulation decreases and brain cells can’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive.
Concussions can be caused by blows to the head or even the force from a whiplash injury. Their most common symptom is vertigo.
Other TBIs caused by impact or sudden changes in movement include:
- Brain hemorrhage: Uncontrolled bleeding in or on the brain.
- Contusion: Mild bleeding on the brain that causes a bruise, which can lead to a hematoma if left untreated.
- Coup-contrecoup brain injury: This is essentially a double contusion. After the initial impact of the brain on one side of the skull, it rebounds to the opposite side, causing a second impact.
- Hematoma: A collection of blood outside of blood vessels, which may be located between the skull and the brain, within the subdural space surrounding the brain, or inside the brain. Symptoms include dizziness, severe headache, slurred speech, and vomiting.
- Diffuse axonal injury: The brain is twisted or shaken inside the skull, tearing the long connecting fibers (axons) of nerve cells, disrupting connectivity and causing those cells to lose their function. This can result in behavioral changes and difficulties with cognition, communication, and movement.
If any of these injuries are localized to affect the vestibular nerve, this can result in dizziness and problems with balance.
#2: Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
BPPV is an inner ear disorder that causes a person to experience a sudden sensation of spinning whenever they change the position of their head. It is usually not permanent, but the frequency and length of time that it affects a person is unpredictable.
BPPV can accompany many health conditions, such as migraines, labyrinthitis, acoustic neuroma, or head injuries, which may occur during a car accident. Twenty-eight percent of individuals who experience head trauma develop BPPV.
The semicircular canals in the inner ear help us control our balance. They are closely connected with a structure called the utricle, which contains hair cells that help maintain orientation and static balance, especially during horizontal tilting.
Tiny calcium crystals called otoconia are an essential part of this process because they transfer mechanical force to the hair cells. Occasionally (for instance, as a result of a car accident) otoconia can come loose from their normal location and flow into the semicircular canals, causing vertigo when a person changes head position.
Some people with BPPV are at risk of injury by falling out of bed or while walking. It can be a frightening condition, but it can be treated fairly simply.
#3: Cervicogenic Injury and Other Neck Injuries
A cervicogenic injury involves damage to a part of the cervical (neck) portion of the spine, whether a vertebra, facet joint, or disc. Someone who has had this type of injury may experience:
- Inability to move the head from side to side or up and down
- Throbbing or shooting pain
- Pain that radiates to the back or shoulder
- Tenderness in the neck and skull
- Arm numbness or tingling
- Memory problems and mood changes
- Neck muscle spasms
Sometimes these symptoms may not appear for 2-4 weeks. It is common to have delayed neck pain.
A car accident can cause various types of neck injuries, but the most common is whiplash or ligament sprains caused by abrupt back-and-forth movements, especially during front-end or rear-end collisions. Symptoms of whiplash include headaches, sore and stiff neck, and even vertigo.
These injuries can cause vertigo because of a discrepancy between the information from the semicircular canals and from proprioceptors in the neck. Signals from the vestibular system seem to indicate one thing about the body’s position, but the signals coming from proprioceptors in an injured neck give conflicting information, confusing the brain and causing dizziness.
Other neck injuries that can have this effect include:
- Misaligned or dislocated vertebra that causes compression on the nerves or spinal cord. The nerve endings at the top of the neck at the base of the skull normally help us stay balanced and aligned with the horizon, but compression hinders this function.
- Slipped, ruptured, herniated, or bulging discs that commonly result from side-impact collisions and also cause nerve or spinal cord compression.
- A fractured cervical spine (one or more of the seven neck vertebrae are cracked) that can damage spinal cord nerves, resulting in death or paralysis.
- Muscle spasms that occur because muscles in the neck were overstretched. Inflammation and swelling affect nerves around the muscle. Resulting symptoms, including dizziness when turning the head or walking around, may be delayed because inflammation grows with time.
How Do You Treat Vertigo After a Car Accident?
Treatment depends on various factors like the type and severity of injury. In order to relieve vertigo, treatment must be focused on treating its cause.
TBI and Concussion Treatment
To treat patients who have experienced a concussion, it is important to modify their environment by reducing stimulation by movement, noise, and light. The best way to recover from a concussion is to rest mentally and physically and gradually increase activity levels as long as symptoms aren’t triggered.
Other TBIs are treated in the following ways:
- For contusions and brain hemorrhage: Surgery may be necessary to repair damaged blood vessels, drain blood, or reduce swelling, along with medications that help reduce swelling and prevent seizures.
- Hematoma: Blood can be drained surgically through a small hole made in the skull. For large hematomas, doctors may recommend a craniotomy, in which a section of the skull is opened to remove the blood.
- Diffuse axonal injury: These are more difficult to treat because they affect multiple areas of the brain. There is no focal point of injury.
The key to recovery is utilizing neuroplasticity, especially during the first few months after the injury, by participating in physical and speech therapy as soon as possible. The brain can regain lost functions by forming new neural pathways to accommodate repetitively performed behaviors.
The Epley maneuver consists of sequential movements of the head to help the otoconia float out of the semicircular canals back into the utricle. It may need to be performed several times, but often people with BPPV experience relief from this repositioning treatment the first time.
Neck Injury Treatment
It is important to seek treatment immediately if you’ve been in a collision because you may have an injury without realizing it since pain is sometimes delayed. Postponing treatment can cause symptoms to worsen over time.
Treatments for whiplash and other neck injuries can help relieve vertigo and include the following:
- Therapeutic massage to address soreness, stiffness, aching, and inflammation
- Chiropractic care to restore range of motion
- Gentle stretches and exercises
- Hot and cold compresses
- NSAIDs and muscle relaxers for muscle spasms
- Steroids to reduce swelling and inflammation
- Practicing proper posture
- Surgery, in rare or severe cases
- Addressing misalignments in the spine that are contributing to symptoms by surgery, back/neck braces, and physical therapy
Cascade Spine & Injury Center regularly sees and successfully treats patients with neck injuries. If you are experiencing vertigo and suspect that your neck is injured as a result of a car accident, schedule an appointment with us today.
Vertigo Symptom and Treatment Timelines
TBI and Concussion Timeline
The symptoms of a concussion can take hours, days, or weeks to present themselves. For concussions, contusions, and brain hemorrhages, recovery may take as little as 2-3 weeks or as long as 1-2 months, but it is not always the case.
A person who has had a brain hemorrhage may recover completely, but death may result even with prompt treatment. Depending on the location and severity of the hemorrhage and resultant swelling, a person may suffer lifelong brain damage.
A hematoma may take days or weeks to develop. A person who has had a craniotomy performed to remove a hematoma may never recover fully. The greatest recovery occurs in the first three months following treatment. If symptoms persist, the patient may require occupational and physical therapy.
Often individuals with a diffuse axonal injury lose consciousness at the time of injury. Those who regain consciousness within the first two weeks have a greater recovery outlook. For others, it is hard to predict, but rehabilitative therapy is the key to restoring lost functions.
BPPV may go away on its own after a few weeks or months, but recovery may be immediate after the Epley maneuver (discussed above) is performed. In the rare event that it isn’t successful, surgery may be performed to remove the otoconia from the semicircular canals or to block the canal so that otoconia cannot enter it. This surgery is about 80% effective and may need to be done multiple times.
Neck Injury Timeline
People who experience whiplash usually feel better within a few weeks of following a prescribed medication and exercise regimen. Other neck injuries can take several months to heal, but they require treatment from medical professionals, such as surgeons and physical therapists.
When Should You See a Medical Professional if You’re Experiencing Vertigo After a Car Accident?
You should get medical attention right away after an accident, even if you are unaware of any injuries. It may be that you will experience delayed symptoms, but various imaging and scans can reveal injuries before you are aware of them.
If you wait too long before seeing a doctor or other medical professional — like Cascade Spine & Injury Center — treatment will likely be less successful or your condition could worsen and become chronic.
Also, if another driver was at fault for the accident and the claim has been closed, you are not likely to receive financial help to cover medical care if you don’t seek medical help promptly.
Cascade Spine & Injury Center: Providing Varied Services To Treat the Root Causes of Vertigo After a Car Accident
Cascade Spine & Injury Center offers a variety of services that can help with conditions that lead to vertigo. We provide chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, exercise therapy, and other treatment modalities.
Contact us today to start your journey to relieving vertigo by taking advantage of our services.
The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.