Can There Be a Delay in Car Accident Symptoms and What to do About Late Appearing Car Accident Injuries?
The typical scenario after a car accident is to feel neck or back soreness and tightness, headaches and other symptoms within a day or two of the accident. However, not all injuries show up so soon. The medical literature points out that a delay in symptoms of days, weeks and even months can occur.
What Causes a Delay in Symptoms After a Car Accident?
There are a couple of factors at play that may contribute to a delayed onset.
There is an initial “shock” response you suffer after an accident in which your body releases endorphins which numbs your senses. This may last 1-2 days after a trauma masking your injuries.
Willful disbelief can occur in which due to a collision that does not appear to be “that bad” because vehicle damage is low, or the impact was perceived to be a slow speed, you simply cannot believe you could be hurt and therefore minimize your pain or blame it on “sleeping wrong,” exercise or “coming down with the flu.” It isn't until the pain persists and is undeniable that you allow yourself to accept and experience the pain and seek attention.
Similarly, if you suffer relatively mild symptoms, you may put off seeing a doctor until weeks or months later when you realize it just isn't going away. By the time you report it, an inexperienced doctor may write in your file that is was a delayed onset when in fact it presented right away, you just delayed treatment.
Multiple injured areas with high intensity levels of pain may mask other, lesser, injured areas. Your brain can only keep track of so many injuries and give priorities to the ones that cause the most immediate pain. Therefore you could have a neck injury that shoots severe pain down your arm that masks the fact that your knee is mildly injured. As your neck and arm pain begin to subside, your brain now allows you to “feel” the knee pain. You may believe it just started, but the injury could have been there all along unknown to you.
Gradual Progressing Injuries
Some injuries are like a slowly deflating tire. Car accident injuries to the discs between your spinal bones can occur, but take a while to show up. The outer fibers of the disc become torn or cracked which may not initially be painful, but in time inflammation increases and symptoms appear. Additionally, the inner gel like substance of your disc can slowly begin migrating through the cracks in the outer fibers until it reaches the nerves and causes pain. Like air gradually escaping a tire, the disc slowly malfunctions leaking pressure and gel until it is noticeable.
“Dashboard knee” is another commonly delayed injury. Your knee may fly up and strike the dashboard on impact. The force crushes the cartilage underneath the knee cap, but not cause immediate symptoms. After a couple of weeks inflammation eventually causes you to feel the pain. In other cases, the inflammation never reached a noticeable level, but because of the injury the cartilage begins trio break down and deteriorate and then you feel it. This could take several months to occur.
What to Do About Pain Delayed After a Car Accident?
It's vital to report all symptoms and changes in symptoms to your doctor. Do not assume a slight change or little ache or pain is irrelevant, sometimes they are, but sometimes they are a clue to an injury that was previously hidden. An experienced car accident doctor will understand this and be able to determine if it is related to the accident or not.
If you've struck your head, elbow or knee in the collision, report it to the doctor even if they do not hurt, as these are common places to show a delayed injury.