Delayed Rib Pain After Car Accident

Jan 31, 2022

If you can walk away from a car accident, you probably feel very lucky- and you are. But even if you don’t have injuries that require emergency care, that doesn’t mean you have avoided pain or injuries as a result of the accident. In fact, it is extremely common for a variety of injuries sustained in an accident to have delayed symptoms that do not appear for hours, days, or even weeks. This can be true of almost any injury but may be more common in the neck, back, and ribs. The best thing you can do is to visit a car accident doctor as soon as possible, even before pain begins- but if you are experiencing rib pain after an accident, read on to understand why this may be happening and what else you can do.

Delayed Symptoms After Car Crashes

A car accident usually happens within a split second, and the force at that moment is what causes the vast majority of injuries. Despite the damage occurring almost immediately, it is extremely common for injuries sustained in a car accident to not cause any symptoms for a long period of time. This is true even for injuries that would immediately appear in other circumstances. The reason for this delay is the stressful nature of a car accident itself.

In response to the panic and terror that a car accident may bring on, our body releases adrenaline as a part of our fight or flight response. The adrenaline is meant to help your body keep going, even in bad or painful circumstances. When your body is flooded with adrenaline, like it may be during a wreck, it hides pain and suppresses other symptoms in order to allow you to carry on. This adrenaline can take a long time for all of the adrenaline to leave your body, which is when pain may begin to come through.

Along with adrenaline rushes, your body could go into shock as a result of serious injuries and unnatural events. When this happens, you may feel numb or not notice injuries as the body tries to protect itself from how painful or severe a problem could be. The shock will also eventually wear off, allowing you to feel the results of these injuries after a period of time.

Most car accident injuries start to cause symptoms after a few hours, but some may take days or even weeks, so it is important to take note of any unusual feelings for a long period of time after your accident.

Common Rib Injuries

The rib cage is a set of bones that surrounds vital organs like the heart and lungs. While these bones can break like any other, their proximity to these organs means these breaks can be serious or even life-threatening when untreated. Any sign of pain in the ribs is a reason to seek medical attention.

In a car accident, the ribcage is subject to intense pressure from a seatbelt as the body is restrained. Seatbelts can save lives but may come with some possible injuries as a result. Rib injuries generally fall into these main categories.

Fractured or Broken Ribs

With enough gravitational force applied to the bones, one or more ribs can break during an accident. In addition to normal risks of a broken bone, a rib that is misplaced or mispositioned after an injury can be dangerous as there is potential for lung punctures. Any damage to the bone itself can be very painful and exhibit symptoms such as chest pain when laughing, coughing, or breathing, as well as swelling and redness in the area.

Soft Tissue Injuries

The ribs are surrounded by muscle and tissue that make it possible for the ribcage to contract and expand, facilitating breathing and movements. Any strong blow to the ribs can injure the soft tissue that surrounds the bones. When this occurs, it may be painful to move, putting a strain on proper respiration and leading to a chain of consequences.


Strain to the tissue, cartilage, and muscles of the chest wall may lead to bruised ribs. This would cause chest pain, tenderness in the area, swelling, visible bruising, and spasms in the chest.

Costochondral Separation

The ribs are connected to the breastbone, or sternum, through cartilage. If this cartilage is separated from the ribs, this injury occurs.

Intercostal Strains

The rib bones are attached to one another by intercoastal muscles. When these muscles stretch, pull or tear, it is known as an intercostal strain.

Flail Chest Injury

In the most serious rib injury, three or more ribs are broken in two or more places. This is enough to reduce the integrity of the ribcage itself, causing it to lose normal shape and the organs to become vulnerable.

Fatal Complications

Rib injuries are often not taken as seriously as they should be, especially if there is blunt force trauma involved. This opens up the potential for damage to the underlying organs, which can be life-threatening. Fatal complications that can occur as a result of rib injuries include:

  • Pneumothorax, or a lung that collapses, may happen when a broken rib tears into the lung or chest wall, altering the pressure in the chest cavity.
  • Extensive trauma to the aorta or the coronary artery can be extremely life-threatening.
  • A ruptured spleen can be caused by a broken rib puncturing the outer cavity of the spleen, causing life-threatening bleeding.

When to Seek Medical Care

After any car accident, you should always seek out care as soon as possible. Even if you are not experiencing any pain or symptoms, an injury could have occurred that you are not yet aware of due to adrenaline and shock. The longer you wait, the more time your injury has to worsen when you could be starting treatment.

Many rib injuries have similar symptoms, so it is difficult to assess whether you have simple bruising or something more serious on your own. At the first sign of rib pain, you should contact a car accident doctor if you have not already.

The team at AICA Conyers specializes in car accident victims and spotting injuries early. Our goal is to identify and diagnose these conditions, including rib injuries, and develop unique treatment plans for each patient. Contact us today to begin this process and start healing.


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