Why Pain Sustained During Auto Accidents is Often Delayed

Sep 01, 2022
Why Pain Sustained During Auto Accidents is Often Delayed
Motor vehicle accidents happen in seconds, but it’s not unusual for crash-related injuries and pain to appear hours, days, or weeks later. Explore the phenomenon known as delayed-onset pain and discover why it happens.

Being involved in a car crash can leave you feeling upset and out of sorts, but unless you sustain a conspicuous injury like a skin laceration or bone fracture, you may not experience any obvious aches or pains. It’s a common situation, and it’s normal. 

It’s also completely normal to begin experiencing accident-related pain, injury, and dysfunction several hours, days, or even weeks after a motor vehicle accident. This phenomenon, known as delayed-onset pain, is a routine byproduct of the physical trauma that occurs in collisions.  

At Spine Care of Manassas Chiropractic Center in Manassas, Virginia, we understand how a car accident can damage your body. Our expert chiropractic team takes an integrative, holistic approach to post-collision injuries that aims to help uncover hidden trauma, resolve your pain, and restore your health. 

If you’ve been in a recent accident, you should know about delayed-onset pain. 

At the scene: Fight-or-flight response

Vehicle collisions can happen anywhere and at any time. Fortunately, many car accidents aren’t too serious, allowing drivers and passengers to walk away with minor or no apparent injuries. 

Rapid force, concealed trauma

When your vehicle mostly holds its structure in a crash, you may walk away feeling protected from the worst-case scenario. While that may be largely true, it’s also true that an enormous amount of force gets transferred in a collision, often in the blink of an eye. Some of that force passes through — and acts on — your body, causing visible injury, hidden trauma, or both.

Your “fight-or-flight” response 

When your body is subjected to rapid, high-impact force, it releases a surge of adrenaline. Known as your “fight-or-flight” response, this self-protective action confers several advantages during high-stress events, including:

  • Enlarged blood vessels and airways
  • Elevated flow of oxygen to the brain
  • Enhanced strength and performance 
  • Ultra-amplified energy and stamina 
  • Intensified visual and auditory awareness
  • Minimized or blocked pain sensations

This same fight-or-flight mechanism also floods your body with calming endorphins, which help keep you steady and in control as you react to the unfolding situation. Commonly called the brain’s “natural pain reliever,” endorphin hormones help ease stress and discomfort.  

After the collision: Delayed-onset pain

Following a stressful, traumatic event like a car crash, your fight-or-flight response gradually winds down. But even as it does, your adrenaline and endorphin can remain in your system for an hour or longer, fully masking any pain symptoms you might experience otherwise.

As soon as your body settles down, you may notice emerging pain or stiffness in certain places, or you may not. Often, it takes a few days to feel the full effects of the soft tissue damage, which can occur with the extreme inertia changes in car accidents.   

Impact-imposed damage

When the sudden force of an impact stops your vehicle, your body momentarily continues moving in the same direction it had been going until your seatbelt, airbag, or another surface barrier stops it short, too.  

This swift inertia change can lead to soft tissue damage at primary contact points, including where your body strains against the seatbelt or where the airbag pushes into your chest. It can also cause deeper soft tissue damage in body parts more affected by extreme inertia changes, like your head, neck, and back.  

Delayed spine and head injuries  

Your head, neck, and back are particularly vulnerable to impact-inflicted soft tissue damage, as they’re more likely to be abruptly jerked forwards, backwards or sideways by the impact force.

When this happens to your head, your neck absorbs the rapid momentum change in the form of whiplash, a traumatic injury that’s one of the most common causes of delayed-onset head and neck pain following an accident. 

Other signs of soft tissue damage that can develop hours or days following a car crash include:

  • Persistent lower back pain
  • Neck stiffness; headaches
  • Blurry vision and dizziness
  • Localized swelling or pain
  • Extremity numbness or tingling
  • Diminished range of motion 
  • Trouble focusing or sleeping

While it may be imposed in a matter of seconds, the soft tissue damage that provokes these delayed symptoms often develops gradually. Pain typically appears when inflammation sets in. 

Come in for an injury evaluation today

Having a complete physical exam and injury assessment soon after a car crash can help you identify areas of trauma early on, sometimes before triggering pain, stiffness, weakness, or other symptoms. Prompt treatment and care can help you:

  • Foster faster, fuller healing and a quicker recovery
  • Reduce your risk of injury-related complications 
  • Protect you from developing a chronic pain condition
  • Support your long-term health and well-being

If you were recently in a motor vehicle accident, Dr. Lincoln German, Dr. Mikaela Foley, and the team at Spine Care of Manassas Chiropractic Center can help. Call 703-972-1451 today, or use our online booking feature to schedule an appointment any time.