Exploring the Phenomenon of Delayed Pain After a Car Accident

Car accidents are a common occurrence, and if you’ve been involved in one, you may be familiar with the phenomenon of delayed pain. 

While it’s true that not everyone experiences pain right away, it’s important to understand that injuries can develop over time and cause significant discomfort later on. 

In this article, we provide valuable insights into some common causes of delayed pain after a car accident and how to take proactive steps to manage your symptoms.

Table of Contents

pain-after car accident delayed

Is It Common To Experience Delayed Pain After a Car Accident?

Yes, it is quite common to experience delayed pain after a car accident. Sometimes the body’s natural responses to trauma may mask pain or discomfort immediately following an accident. Symptoms may develop up to 72 hours after the accident. 

How long it takes for pain to arise after a car accident can vary greatly based on the type of injury you may be experiencing. 

Certain injuries, like whiplash or soft tissue injuries, can take several days to become apparent. Seeking medical treatment after a car accident is critical. Your medical professional can evaluate you for any injuries and provide guidance on what to do should you experience delayed pain after a car accident.

What Does the Progression to Delayed Pain Typically Look Like?

The progression to delayed pain after a car accident can vary from person to person. Someone who initially feels fine after a car accident may gradually experience neck or back pain a few days later. They may notice stiffness, limited mobility, and pain that worsens over time. This progression of symptoms may indicate that something changed in their body during the car accident. 

As their body tries to heal itself and adapt, the pain sets in — signaling to their brain that something isn’t right.

But how can you determine if the pain or discomfort you’re beginning to feel was due to an accident? And what can you do to overcome the discomfort? 

Cascade Spine and Injury Center — our multidisciplinary clinic — aims to provide patients with a quick and effective diagnosis and recovery from car accident injuries. 

If you’re dealing with delayed pain from whiplash, neck, shoulder, or back injuries, or other ailments due to a car accident, our professional team has the qualifications and expertise to deliver high-quality patient care. 

delayed pain after car accident

Why Might Pain After a Car Accident Be Delayed?


You’ve been in a car accident and while you’re feeling a little shaken up, you don’t notice any pain. That means you’re fine, right? 

Not necessarily. 

You may be experiencing an adrenaline rush. 

After a car accident, you may experience a surge of adrenaline, the hormone that’s released by your body in response to stress. It prepares your body to go into your “fight or flight” response. 

This is why your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing may increase after an accident. The adrenaline surge can temporarily mask or cause a delayed perception of pain after a car accident. 

An adrenaline rush can last a few hours, even up to a day, depending on the person and the severity of the accident. As the effects of adrenaline begin to wear off, pain and other symptoms may surface. 

Delayed Inflammatory Response

Delayed pain after a car accident can also be caused by a delayed inflammatory response in passive structures such as ligaments and tendons.

Injuries to these passive structures can take longer to develop and are not as easily identifiable as injuries to more active structures such as muscles. Because these ligaments and tendons do not have a strong blood supply, inflammation can take longer to develop as the immune cells must travel further to reach the injury site. 

As your body starts recognizing the injury, it initiates an inflammatory response to repair the damage. This inflammatory response increases blood flow to the area, bringing in immune cells and other substances needed for tissue repair. 

While this initiative to heal the body starts to occur, you may begin feeling pain, swelling, stiffness, or discomfort. 

Pain Gating

Have you ever hit your elbow against a hard surface and instinctively started rubbing or massaging the area to relieve the pain? 

This is a phenomenon known as pain gating — neuromechanics that interact with pain signals throughout the body. It involves interactions between the nervous system, immune system, and a variety of biochemical pathways, all of which modulate pain signals and regulate our perception of pain. 

When you hit your elbow and begin to rub the injury, you’re subconsciously acting to reduce the transmission of pain signals to your brain. 

Pain gating is common after car accidents, too. 

Let’s look at an example of pain gaiting after a car accident: 

Say you break two ribs in a car accident. The pain you feel from your broken ribs likely distracts you from the pain that’s also occurring in your neck. However, as the pain from your rib injury begins to settle, you realize that every time you turn your head to the right, it hurts. Could it be from the accident? 

It could be — your chiropractor or another healthcare professional can help you determine the cause. 

delayed pain after car accident

Chiropractors Often See These 4 Delayed Injuries After a Car Accident

#1: Whiplash

Whiplash often occurs after car accidents — particularly during rear-end collisions, because of the way that your head and neck are forcefully moved back and forth.

Initially, someone experiencing whiplash may not feel significant pain or discomfort, as the pain gating mechanism may be activated in response to the sudden impact.

However, as the effects of the adrenaline or pain gating wear off, delayed pain may occur due to soft tissue damage, inflammation, or nerve irritation in the neck. 

Delayed symptoms of whiplash after a car accident may include: 

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Dizziness

The delayed pain from whiplash can cause significant discomfort and may require medical treatment to manage symptoms and promote healing, which oftentimes may simply mean a visit to your chiropractor. 

If you are concerned you may be dealing with delayed pain from whiplash, the team at Cascade Spine and Injury can help determine the best treatment to overcome any delayed pain or discomfort after a car accident. 

#2: Headaches

Headaches are another injury that may cause delayed pain after a car accident.

Post-traumatic headaches are typically caused by trauma to the head or neck during an accident. It may involve neck pain that eventually — sometimes days after the accident — radiates to your head. 

Whiplash may also cause headaches that don’t appear until days after your crash. It occurs when the neck muscles and ligaments are strained due to the forced movement of your head and neck during an accident. 

#3: Neck, Back, and Shoulder Pain

Delayed neck, back, and shoulder pain after a car accident can be caused by  several things, such as: 

  • Soft tissue injuries (like muscle strains or ligament sprains): Soft tissues do not receive as much blood flow as other parts of the body, so it takes time for the body to signal to the brain that there’s an injury. 

Soft tissue injuries can occur when the body is subjected to sudden and intense forces, such as those experienced during a car accident. These injuries can cause inflammation, swelling, and pain in the neck, back, or shoulders.

  • Misalignments in the spine or joints: These misalignments can put pressure on nerves and cause pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. 

Misalignments may not be apparent immediately after the accident, but may slowly develop over time as the body tries to compensate for the injury.

#4: Numbness or Tingling in Extremities 

Various forms of nerve pain and damage can happen during a car accident, resulting in delayed pain or discomfort. 

Some of the most common forms of nerve damage after a car accident include: 

  • Pinched nerves – if your body is subjected to sudden or intense force during a car accident, a pinched nerve may occur. Symptoms may only begin to develop over time as the inflammation of the pinched nerve worsens.
  • Peripheral neuropathy – if trauma to your extremities occurs during a car accident, you may experience delayed numbness, tingling, weakness, or pain in the affected areas after a car accident.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – while this injury is commonly associated with the repetitive use of your hands and wrists, it can also be caused by trauma to the wrist during a car accident. 

Remember, it’s not uncommon for pain or discomfort from these types of injuries to be delayed after a car accident. As inflammation (which takes longer to occur because of the lack of blood flow to these areas) worsens, so may the pain and discomfort. 

How Soon After a Car Accident Should You Seek Treatment?

If you have been involved in a car accident, it is best to seek care from a medical professional, including your chiropractor, as soon as possible — especially if you begin to notice any sort of pain or discomfort, tingling, limitation of movement, stiffness, etc. 

Your chiropractor may perform a comprehensive physical exam to assess your: 

  • Range of motion
  • Reflexes
  • Muscle strength
  • Spine and joint alignments

They may also order diagnostic tests, like an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan, to rule out injuries and determine the proper treatment plan. 

Your healthcare provider can perform a thorough evaluation, identify any injuries, and provide appropriate treatment to help you recover as quickly as possible.

delayed injuries after car accident

What Treatment Options Are Available for Delayed Injuries After a Car Accident?

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care may be an effective treatment if you are struggling with delayed pain after a car accident or if you’re searching for a non-invasive, more natural approach to healing. 

Chiropractic care can help address the root cause of pain — rather than masking symptoms. Chiropractors can help relieve pain and promote healing in the affected areas by using various techniques, including spinal adjustments and strengthening exercises. 

These techniques may also help to:

  • Improve range of motion
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Prevent scar tissue from forming
  • Speed up the healing process; and 
  • Reduce the risk of long-term complications

Your chiropractor may work in conjunction with other healthcare providers, such as your physical therapist or primary care physician, to create a comprehensive treatment plan addressing injuries resulting from a car accident. 


Acupuncture can help to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation in the affected areas and promote blood flow and circulation.

By targeting specific points in the body, acupuncture can help relax tense muscles, reduce inflammation, and improve your range of motion.

The benefits of acupuncture after a car accident don’t stop at pain relief. 

Car accidents can be a traumatic experience, and many people may experience anxiety or other emotional symptoms as a result. Acupuncture can help calm the mind and reduce stress, which can be particularly beneficial for those recovering from a car accident.

At Cascade Spine and Injury Center, our chiropractors may use acupuncture with other treatments, such as chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, and other modalities to provide a comprehensive approach to healing after a car accident. 

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can be an effective and non-invasive treatment option for delayed pain after a car accident. It often accompanies chiropractic care to help relieve muscle tension, reduce inflammation, and improve circulation. 

At Cascade Spine and Injury, we specialize in treating patients who have suffered from car accidents and other types of personal injuries. 

We offer a variety of massage therapy techniques, including deep tissue massage, Swedish massage, and trigger point therapy, all of which can effectively reduce pain and promote healing.

delayed pain after car accident

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Delayed Injuries After a Car Accident?

The length of time it takes to recover from delayed injuries after a car accident can vary depending on the:

  • Severity of the injuries
  • Age and health of the individual
  • Treatment plan implemented

Treatment for delayed injuries may include a combination of medication, physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy, and other forms of rehabilitation as needed.

Don’t Wait Until You Feel Pain After a Car Accident — Visit Cascade Spine & Injury Center Today

If you’ve recently been involved in a car accident, don’t wait until you feel pain to seek medical attention. 

Even if you feel fine initially, injuries such as whiplash or soft tissue damage can develop over time and cause significant pain and discomfort later on. 

At Cascade Spine & Injury Center, we specialize in treating auto accident injuries and can help you get the care you need to recover fully. Our experienced team of chiropractors and medical professionals will conduct a thorough evaluation to identify any injuries you may have sustained, and develop a personalized treatment plan to address your specific needs. 

Schedule your appointment today and take the first step toward a full and speedy recovery.

delayed pain after car accident

The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.

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