Why Can Pain from a Car Accident Be Delayed?

Feb 02, 2023
Why Can Pain from a Car Accident Be Delayed?
Car accidents may happen in the blink of an eye, but it’s not unusual for collision-related pain and injury to emerge hours, days, or even weeks after the traumatic event. Learn more about delayed-onset pain, and find out why it happens.

It’s a common chain of events: After getting into a car accident, many people feel shaken and out of sorts, but in the absence of obvious traumatic injuries like a major gash or broken bone, don’t always feel any immediate pain or discomfort. 

It’s common for auto accident-related injuries and resulting pain and dysfunction to appear hours, days, or even weeks following a motor vehicle collision. The phenomenon, known as delayed-onset pain, is a well-documented effect of the type of physical stress and damage that can occur in a car crash.

Here at Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates in Humble and Baytown, Texas, our experienced team understands the various ways a car accident can affect your body. As a board-certified pain management expert, Dr. Okezie N. Okezie offers a full scope of pain relief procedures to help you restore your health. 

At the scene: Adrenaline and endorphins

Thousands of people get into motor vehicle collisions every day in the United States. Luckily, many car crashes aren’t too serious, allowing both drivers and passengers to walk away with minor injuries or no apparent trauma at all. But appearances can be deceiving.

Extreme force, unseen trauma

In a collision, your car takes the brunt of the impact and transfers that extreme force through its structure in a matter of seconds. Some of this rapid force passes through and acts on your body, causing visible injuries like seatbelt compression — or hidden trauma like whiplash.

A “fight-or-flight” reaction

When your body is subjected to an immense amount of force, it releases a swift surge of adrenaline to protect itself. Known as your “fight-or-flight” response, this automatic internal reaction offers several key benefits during high-stress events, including:

  • Expanded blood vessels and airways
  • Enhanced oxygen flow to the brain
  • Amplified visual and auditory awareness
  • Increased strength and performance 
  • Super-charged energy and stamina 
  • Diminished or blocked pain sensations

As the situation stabilizes, this same automatic mechanism begins to flood your system with calming endorphin hormones, commonly known as the brain’s “natural pain reliever.” Besides helping you stay calm and in control, endorphins blunt feelings of stress and pain.

Following the crash: Delayed-onset pain 

After a car accident, your body’s fight-or-flight reaction gradually tapers off. Even so, your adrenaline and endorphin levels may remain elevated for several hours, numbing any pain symptoms you might otherwise have.

Force-inflicted trauma

When your body finally settles down, you may notice emerging pain or stiffness in certain places. Often, it takes a day or longer to feel the soft tissue trauma inflicted by the extreme force and rapid inertia changes that occur during the stages of a collision:

  • Your car is stopped short by the sudden force of an impact 
  • Very briefly, your body continues moving through space at the same rate 
  • Your body is abruptly stopped short by your seatbelt, airbag, or surface barrier 

Sudden momentum changes often cause soft tissue damage at points of contact, such as where your chest or waist strains against your seatbelt. 

Delayed neck and back pain

Rapid deceleration and forceful directional changes can also inflict deeper tissue damage in the body parts that “absorb” extreme inertia changes the most, like your spine.

This is why whiplash injuries — which occur when your head is jerked forward, backward, or sideways by the force of the impact — are common sources of delayed-onset pain following a car crash. It’s also common to experience: 

  • Slowly emerging back and neck pain
  • Headaches, blurry vision, or dizziness
  • Swelling and pain in your extremities
  • Numbness or tingling in your extremities
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion 

Delayed back and neck pain typically emerges once your body’s inflammatory response is in full swing. 

Indirect trauma and pain

Delayed-onset pain following a collision can also be the result of an indirect injury or one that develops later because of trauma that was sustained during the impact. 

This is sometimes the case with injuries that affect your spinal discs, or the small rubbery pads that cushion your vertebral bones and facilitate motion in your spine. When one of your spinal discs shifts slightly or sustains minor damage during a collision, it’s more likely to tear, herniate, or rupture over time. 

Schedule a prompt injury assessment today

Seeing Dr. Okezie for a comprehensive injury exam within a few days of your accident can help you get the diagnosis and treatment you need to facilitate optimal healing, promote complete recovery, and lower your chances of chronic pain and future complications. It can also help you obtain the information you need to support a personal injury case.

If you’ve recently been in a car accident, we can help. Call your nearest Interventional Sports and Pain Management Associates office in Humble or Baytown, Texas, today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Okezie any time.