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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Common among Car Accidents Victims

Most people think of military personnel returning from combat as individuals who commonly experience the mayhem of anxiety known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, civilians experience PTSD just as much. Individuals who sustain injuries from car accidents, in particular, often suffer from PTSD.

What is PTSD?

In more specific terms, PTSD is an anxiety disorder many people experience after undergoing a traumatic or life-threatening event like a car or motorcycle accident, pedestrian-vehicle accident or a fall from a significant height. Many PTSD sufferers experience continuous overwhelming feelings of anxiety or fear.

It’s obvious that auto accident victims sustain orthopedic injuries like broken bones, sprains and back injuries; however, many also suffer from psychological injuries, like PTSD, as well. In fact, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Orethopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS), over 50 percent of patients with orthopedic injuries suffer from PTSD.

PTSD and its Debilitating Nature

PTSD is problematic because it’s simply debilitating. Many people understand why military veterans suffer from this disorder after returning from combat overseas because the missions involve serious death, destruction and injury people in the general public would never see, encounter or be able to handle. However, PTSD is not just limited to those that undergo traumatic events in war environments; it happens frequently to people who undergo traumatic events here at home and is just as serious.

Psychologists Edward B. Blanchard, Ph.D., and Edward J. Hickling, Psy.D., published a book about motor vehicle accident sufferers and PTSD entitled After The Crash: Assessment and Treatment of Motor Vehicle Accident Survivors. The book details a study on the particular experiences and symptoms of 158 motor vehicle accident survivors. Out of 158 survivors, the study revealed that over 39 percent developed PTSD right after the traumatic accident or within one year.

PTDS and its Affects

Aside from the physical injuries that limit patients’ ability to carry out their everyday lives, PTDS also affects their ability to handle everyday tasks. Specifically, it hinders their ability to perform basic tasks like bathing, shopping and laundry. It also affects their ability to function or even return to work or school, their ability to carry on with relationships, and their ability to complete rehabilitation.

Identifying PTSD

Several symptoms are typically shown by individuals suffering from PTSD. Symptoms can occur for months if not years after the traumatic vehicle accident. These include:

  • Flashing back to the distressful event: Similar to military veterans, auto accident victims suffering from PTSD are known to experience recurring nightmares, flashbacks and disturbing memories of the particular car, pedestrian, motorcycle or bicycle accident.
  • Avoiding similar situations: PTSD sufferers tend to also shun situations similar to, or ones that remind them of, the original trauma. Pedestrian victims may refrain from crossing a busy intersection; auto accident victims may abstain from getting into or driving a vehicle.
  • Reluctancy to talk about the traumatic event: Patients suffering from PTSD may refuse to speak or converse about the car accident or event that caused the trauma when asked. This could be attributed to the overwhelming, uncomfortable feelings they associate with the accident.
  • Feeling emotionally numb: Some PTSD patients report having difficulty feeling positive emotions. Many feel disconnected or distant from loved ones and lack any interest in prior activities that were once fun.
  • Hyper-vigilance: Many PTSD sufferers feel constantly “on alert” to new and potential threats to their wellbeing and experience intense bursts of energy.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Patients with PTSD may also have difficulty focusing on activities or experience forgetfulness (i.e. forgetting where they put the keys).
  • Insomnia: Some PTSD patients report experiencing restless nights and difficulty falling or staying asleep after the accident.

Feelings of anger and irritability are also common symptoms of PTSD. It is also not uncommon for many PTSD suffers to turn to behaviors like smoking, alcohol or substance abuse to escape the traumatic event or manage the stress and anxiety associated with the disorder.


Earlier this year, however, a new and interesting way to assess PTSD in individuals came to light. PTSD was diagnosed in several patients by using what’s known as magnetoencephalography (MEG). MEG is a non-evasive procedure that measures magnetic fields in patients’ brains, beyond those of standard brain scans. MEG records the interactions between the network of nerves in the brain and through the new procedure, researchers can identify unique biomarkers in the brains of those who exhibit PTSD.

Researchers were not only able to identify PTSD sufferers through MEG, they were also able to use MEG to detect the severity of the PTSD in individuals.

Treating PTSD

Luckily, different treatment options are available for PTSD. Although there is no one-size-fits-all cure, psychiatric therapy and/or anti-anxiety medications can help individuals deal with PTSD.

Psychologists Blanchard and Hickling say that cognitive-behavior therapy is the most effective way to reduce PTSD symptoms of those involved in auto accidents. This therapy helps patients change their thinking patterns to reflect more positively about the traumatic event.



Case Results


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for a client injured in a 2005 Metra train derailment case.


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for a woman who was hit by a car while crossing the street.


for a client who was injured on the CTA red line train.


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for injuries in a van accident pulling a trailer.


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