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Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA): Contusion from a Seat Belt

Caution road sign for slippery road ahead

Seat belts can help save lives in a car accident. But if your body was thrown forward against the seat belt, you may have a bruise (contusion) or scrape (abrasion) on your neck, chest, back, or belly (abdomen).

A bruise may cause changes in skin color (for instance, the skin may turn blue or black). Swelling and pain may also occur. A scrape may cause pain, redness, swelling, and bleeding. 

Most bruises and scrapes are not serious. They generally take a few days or longer to heal.

Home care

  • Being in a car accident can be emotionally upsetting. Take time to rest and adjust to what has happened. Talking with others about your feelings can help you feel less anxious and afraid.

  • It’s normal for your muscles to feel sore and tight the day after the accident. But tell your healthcare provider about any pain that is severe.

  • You may use acetaminophen to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. Don’t take aspirin or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) without talking to your provider first. These medicines increase the risk of bleeding.

  • To help reduce swelling and pain, apply a cold source to the injured area for up to 20 minutes at a time as often as directed. Use a cold pack or bag of ice wrapped in a thin towel. Never put a cold source directly on your skin.

  • If you have any cuts or scrapes caused by the accident, be sure to care for them as directed.

Note about concussion

The strong forces from a car accident can sometimes cause a concussion (mild brain injury). You don’t have symptoms of a concussion at this time. But these can show up later. For this reason, you may be told to watch for symptoms of concussion once you’re home. Seek emergency medical care if you develop any of the symptoms below over the next hours to days:

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Sensitivity to light or noise

  • Unusual sleepiness or grogginess

  • Trouble falling asleep

  • Personality changes

  • Vision changes

  • Memory loss

  • Confusion

  • Trouble walking or clumsiness

  • Loss of consciousness (even for a short time)

  • Inability to be awakened

During the time period that you’re watching for concussion symptoms:

  • Don’t drink alcohol or use sedatives or other medicines that make you sleepy.

  • Don’t drive or operate machinery.

  • Don’t do anything strenuous, such as heavy lifting or straining.

  • Limit tasks that require concentration. This includes reading, watching TV, using a smartphone or computer, and playing video games.

  • Don’t return to sports, exercise, or other activity that could result in another injury.

Ask your healthcare provider when you can safely resume these activities.

 

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider or as advised. If you had imaging tests done, they will be reviewed by a doctor. You will be told the results and any new findings that may affect your care.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Bruising spreads or worsens

  • Pain or swelling worsens

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Increased warmth, redness, swelling, bleeding, or drainage around any cuts or scrapes

Call 911

Call 911 right away if any of these occur:

  • Blood in your vomit, stool (red or black color), or urine (pink or red color)

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

  • Seizure

 

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