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Why Is Whiplash Pain Often Delayed?

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries after an accident, especially an auto accident where you are rear-ended. Whiplash is caused by a sudden, violent jerking of the head back and forth, which overextends the neck muscles and soft tissues, causing small tears and injuries. This can lead to severe pain, dramatic reduction in range of motion, and significant impairment to a person’s ability to complete the activities of everyday life.

However, many whiplash sufferers feel fine just after the accident and even refuse medical attention. If whiplash is so bad, why doesn’t it show up immediately after being hurt?

Well, there are a couple of reasons:

Adrenaline Rush

Our bodies are designed to enter a state of resource conservation if we experience a traumatic event. This trauma can be physical, mental, or emotional. During this crisis response, people often experience what is called an “adrenaline rush”, which is a sudden surge or epinephrine production in the body by the sympathetic nervous system. These high levels of epinephrine keep our bodies on high alert as our brains try to sort through what has happened and determine if any threat remains. As we begin to feel that the threat is going away, so too does the amount of epinephrine in our systems.

This flood of epinephrine does more than just keep you on your toes; it also limits your nervous system’s ability to detect and respond to pain, so injuries that occur just after an accident may go unnoticed until the nervous system begins disarming itself after the traumatic event.

Delayed Physical Response

Have you ever been hit on the arm or leg and were sure that you would have an immediate bruise, only for nothing to show up for days? Once the bruise does surface, it is usually much worse than you were expecting. This is the same delayed response that causes whiplash sufferers to not feel their injury until days or even a week after their accident. It takes time for the body to mount an immune response to an injury, meaning that the swelling, and associated pain, in that area will build up gradually. This is especially true for severe or “deep” injuries to muscles or fascia. So, when you are in an accident and experience a whiplash injury, it takes time for your body to:

  • Disable the sympathetic nervous system response to the trauma
  • Recognize the location and severity of any injuries
  • Deploy an immune response to that area
  • Clear out and replace any dead or damaged tissues

As your body works through this process over the weeks following your accident, you may experience an increase in pain and other symptoms as the full extent of your injuries becomes evident.

Whiplash Care in Tampa Bay

If you’ve been in an auto accident, slip and fall, sports-related injury, or any other type of traumatic event that affected your head and/or neck, it is imperative that you seek medical treatment for possible delayed injuries such as whiplash immediately! If you live in Tampa Bay, TLC Medical offers four convenient locations where walk-ins are welcome, so you never have to wait to start receiving your care. With Florida’s accident injury protection laws, such as PIP coverage and “Direct Access to Care”, many people can start receiving treatment on the same day as their accident, even if they didn’t require hospitalization. Contact us at (813) 874-1852 to find out more about our post-accident care services and to discover the location closest to you today!