How Long Is Average Recovery Time Following a Car Accident


Every year, car crashes send more than 2.5 million Americans to the emergency room. Around 200,000 are injured so severely that they are promptly hospitalized.

Even victims treated and released, however, can face long-term pain and complications as the result of their accident. But how long does it take to “get well” and what should victims realistically expect?

Here are the facts about car crashes, the injuries they cause, and victims’ average recovery time.

Car Crash Injuries

Some auto accident related injuries are obvious and acute. These include:

  • Broken bones
  • Back and spinal cord injuries
  • Bruises and contusions

Other auto wreck injuries may not be visible right away or may appear less serious than they are. Common examples include:

  • Concussions
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Whiplash
  • Internal bleeding
  • Soft tissue injuries such as sprains

Perhaps the most often overlooked wounds are the psychological ones. Accident victims may experience:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fear

How long a person takes to heal after an accident depends in part on what types of injuries they sustain.

Take broken bones for example. On average, small bones such as fingers tend to take around six weeks to heal. Larger bones or bones located in complex joints can take much longer, often up to three months.

Similarly, modest joint sprains can heal in around four weeks. More serious sprains can take up to six months to recover from.

On the other end of the spectrum are spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and injuries that require surgery.

Spinal cord injuries can take between 18 months and several years to heal, if they heal completely at all. Traumatic brain injuries can similarly take years to recover from and victims may never recover the same level of health or functioning they enjoyed prior to the accident. Injuries that require surgery also take months to years to recover from.

It is difficult to determine with any consistency how long it takes to recover from the psychological impacts of a wreck. Each victim’s response and recovery will be different, but many continue to suffer for years.


Standard healing times, of course, are based on generic expectations. They assume that victims were healthy at the time of the crash and suffer no complications.

In reality, complications and pre-existing conditions are the rule rather than the exception. A victim’s constellation of relevant factors can cause them to take far longer than normal to heal.

For example, victims with osteoporosis may:

  • Suffer more broken bones than usual in a crash
  • Experience worse breaks, such as compound fractures
  • Heal much more slowly than other victims

Diabetes is another common influencer of healing times. One in ten Americans have diabetes, which often causes:

  • Neuropathy
  • Reduced circulation
  • Higher than average inflammation
  • Increased risk of infection

All of these things can complicate and slow healing.

Treatment Complications

Some complications result from treatment conditions rather than victim conditions. For instance, victims who need surgery may suffer post-surgical infections as a result of the operation rather than the original injury that required the surgery in the first place.

Similarly, victims may:

  • Be subject to misdiagnoses
  • React poorly to medications prescribed during treatment
  • Struggle to access care or comply with care instructions

The psychological impacts of surviving a car accident can further muddy the waters. Regardless of the cause, complications are common. They can result in extended recovery times and much higher costs for victims and their families.

Late Diagnosis

Some accident-related injuries take longer than expected to heal because they are not identified right away. Doctors may miss initial signs of “invisible” injuries such as:

  • Concussions
  • Whiplash
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Anxiety or depression

Victims may go for several weeks with worsening symptoms before they receive a diagnosis for these conditions. That delay in getting care can result in much longer recovery times than if they had been diagnosed and treated at the time of the crash.

Minimizing Recovery Time

Regardless of their circumstances, there are steps victims can take to minimize their recovery time after a car wreck. These include:

  • Seeking appropriate care
  • Complying with treatment plans
  • Attending to mental and emotional health
  • Having realistic expectations

First, victims should see a medical professional any time they are involved in a crash even if they feel fine. This presents the opportunity for quick diagnosis and prompt care. That in turn can get healing underway immediately and prevent the worsening of unidentified conditions.

Second, victims should take all possible steps to comply with the treatments and restrictions recommended by their doctors. This may include everything from getting surgery to bed rest to going on “light duty” restrictions at work to avoid worsening their condition while they heal. Disregarding treatment instructions can lead to re-injury and slower healing.

Third, victims should talk to a mental health professional to address any anxiety, depression, or other complications they may face as a result of the crash. These conditions and their impacts are very real. Being aware of them and proactive about addressing them is critical.

Having realistic expectations can make it easier to do all of these steps.

Legal Considerations

Many victims are understandably worried about getting back to “real life.” In focusing on this goal, however, they can too easily lose sight of other important considerations.

Specifically, they can fail to keep in mind that taking the necessary time and steps to recover is a key part of a successful personal injury compensation case.

When suing for damages and medical expenses, an accident attorney needs documentation of treatment and care on which to base their claims. They also need to be able to document patient compliance with recommended care to justify the incurred medical expenses. To sue for emotional distress in a personal injury claim, they may further need proof that victims worked with a mental health professional to identify and address psychological harm caused by the accident.

Victims who fail to seek care or who do not comply with care instructions can compromise their cases and ability to receive full damages for their injuries.

Learn More

Understanding accident recovery time can help you make smart choices if you are ever in an accident. Find more answers to common and important questions by browsing our other great articles today.


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