Recovering From PTSD After a Bike Crash

Recovering From PTSD After a Bike Crash. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Photo by Shutterstock

It was not long ago that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was something only for war veterans. We've come a long way in accepting the reality of mental health disorders since then. Thousands of people, every day, across the country develop PTSD in response to traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse, losing a baby during childbirth, mass shootings, assault, seeing a loved one become seriously injured or killed, traffic collisions, and bike crashes. While a certain amount of fear following a terrifying or injury event keeps us vigilant, too much fear and anxiety become a crippling disability if left untreated. Treating PTSD is not just about "having a positive outlook on life," or forcing early exposure by getting back on the saddle. PTSD causes abnormal regulation of various neurochemicals, including cortisol, thyroid hormones, catecholamine, serotonin, and opioid neurotransmitters. It is characterized by heightened activation of the amygdala and other regions of the brain. PTSD is a serious injury and needs to be treated as such.

Symptoms of PTSD in Cyclists

There are dozens of symptoms of PTSD, many of which are also symptoms of other mental health disorders, or simply symptoms of everyday life (or overtraining if you're a bike racer or triathlete). However, if you notice a marked change in the way you think after being struck by a vehicle, you may be experiencing PTSD symptoms. A few common PTSD symptoms include:

  • Self-destructive thoughts or behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor short term memory
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Distorted negative beliefs about oneself or the world or oneself
  • Depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, and other major changes in mood

PTSD symptoms specific to cyclists might include:

  • Not wanting to talk about bikes or bike riding
  • Putting off getting a new bike or putting off having your damaged bike repaired
  • Taking a different (and potentially less convenient) bike commute route, or otherwise avoiding the crash scene where you were hit
  • Irritable or overly aggressive attitude toward drivers or traffic
  • Feeling constantly "on guard," such as constantly looking over your shoulder for approaching vehicles
  • Fear of the model or color of the vehicle that hit you
  • Being easily startled when you're out riding
  • Persistent or unexpected fatigue while riding or training
  • Dissociative amnesia (trouble remembering how the crash occurred even if you didn't suffer a brain injury)
  • Blaming yourself (when it was not your fault) for somehow causing the crash:
    • "I should have been wearing a brighter jersey"
    • "I should have been using a rear light"
    • "I saw it coming and should have braked quicker"
    • "I should have avoided that road"

How a Medical Professional Diagnoses PTSD

It's important for your personal injury case that PTSD is officially diagnosed by a doctor. Your compensation is tied to damages including emotional distress (including PTSD), and the expenses related to said distress, such as cognitive behavior therapy. But even more important than establishing evidence of PTSD is being properly diagnosed for your own health and well-being. The sooner you can treat PTSD, the better your chances of making a recovery and actually wanting to bike ride again. While PTSD does not show up on an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI like a physical injury, the medical world does have the ability to make a real diagnosis of PTSD. A mental health provider diagnoses PTSD by talking to the bike crash victim—talking about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD can be diagnosed after four weeks when the following is true:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom—Such as having flashbacks or nightmares of the crash.
  • At least one avoidance symptom—Such as avoiding a certain road.
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms—Such as difficulty concentrating at work, difficulty falling asleep, or feeling agitated riding in traffic.
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms—Such as feeling isolated, losing interest in bike riding, or having negative thoughts about the world.

PTSD Recovery Methods For Cyclists

Don't just push through. Listen to your emotional/psychological needs, and your nervous system. It might be tempting to hop right back on the bike once your physical injuries allow you to, but PTSD doesn't simply go away with exposure to the environment (riding a bike in traffic) in which the trauma occurred. Cyclists who survive serious collisions with vehicles often fall into one of two camps: 1) those who stop riding permanently (and lose something vitally important in their lives), and 2) those who start riding right away (and grow to hate or fear riding their bike). Before you make any decision about getting back on two wheels, if you have been diagnosed with PTSD or you believe you have it (chances are you do, especially if the crash is still recent), our advice is to reach out to a medical doctor and therapist who has experience with PTSD. Different types of psychotherapy best suited for PTSD include:

  • Brainspotting therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy
  • Cognitive Therapy
  • Prolonged Exposure
  • Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)
  • Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy

In addition to therapy, some PTSD victims also benefit from seeking help from a psychiatrist who has the ability to prescribe medications. The four most common PTSD medications are: sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine. Unfortunately, victims of PTSD often find themselves self-medicating with alcohol, THC, or other narcotics that provide short-term relief, though they can actually impair the victim's ability to recover long-term.

Call a Bike Crash Attorney Today if You Were Hit by a Negligent Driver

If you were injured in a bike crash, you are not alone. There are mental health professionals out there who are available to help you through these difficult times. Bike crash attorney Brad Tucker at Colorado Bike Law is also here to help you navigate the legal side. Colorado Bike Law helps bike crash victims in Denver, Golden, Boulder, and all throughout Colorado by reviewing the circumstances of their case, establishing damages, and holding the at-fault party (or parties) and their insurance carrier (or carriers) fully accountable by filing a personal injury claim, and lawsuit if necessary. Call us today at 303.694.9300 to schedule a free consultation.