Why Whiplash Pain and Other Auto Accident Injuries Are Often Delayed

Even a minor auto accident can result in trauma. Cars are heavy, and when they’re moving the force of their weight is multiplied. Low-speed collisions, being rear-ended, and other so-called fender benders can cause more physical damage than most people realize.

Complicating the situation is that you don’t always know right away that you’ve been injured. Pain from trauma sustained in an automobile accident is often delayed, so you may not realize that you’re hurt until a day or two later.

Delayed pain

If you’re cut, you bleed, and there’s usually not much question about whether or not you need medical care. But if your injury isn’t obvious, you may doubt whether you should seek medical attention or not.

For example, in cases of whiplash, you might not even know that you’re hurt until hours or even days after you’re involved in an accident. Whiplash, sometimes called neck strain or sprain, happens when your head whips backward then forward quickly as it would if your car is hit from the rear.

To complicate matters, your symptoms may not seem to be related to your neck at all. Loss of range of motion and pain in your neck are both symptoms, but there are others that are less clear-cut. A headache is a common symptom, and you might attribute a headache to stress or some other cause.

Other symptoms of whiplash that may be confusing include:

  • Tingling in your arms
  • Numbness in your arms
  • Tenderness in your shoulders, back, or arms
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in your ears
  • Problems concentrating

Other traumatic injuries that may have delayed symptoms can be even more serious than whiplash. Internal bleeding, spinal cord injuries, and some traumatic brain injuries may not be apparent immediately following an auto accident.

Why pain is delayed

Your response to trauma is complicated and may be different from someone else’s. Research into the human response to trauma is ongoing, and scientists are learning more about it all the time. Physical, emotional, and psychological factors all play a role in how your body responds to injury, pain, and trauma.

In cases of whiplash, the overextended soft tissues of your neck may take some time to become inflamed, much as your muscles take time to become sore after an intense workout. You don’t feel the pain until the inflammation fully sets in.

Another reason it can take a while for you to realize you’re hurt is adrenaline. Adrenaline, sometimes called epinephrine, is a hormone that your body produces when you’re in a stressful situation. One of the roles of adrenaline is to reduce your body’s ability to feel pain. Even an accident that seems minor is stressful and can stimulate your body to release adrenaline.

What you should do if you have symptoms

If you begin to experience symptoms a few hours, or even a few days, following an auto accident, you should seek treatment. Whiplash and other injuries commonly sustained in car wrecks have complications if they’re left untreated. Symptoms that may be related to your accident include:

  • Headaches
  • Pain or stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Bruising
  • Seizures
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Problems remembering or concentrating
  • Numbness

If you’ve been involved in an accident, however minor, book an appointment online or by phone at Omega Physical Therapy. If we find evidence of whiplash or another injury, we’ll provide an evaluation and suggest a treatment plan.

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