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  • Writer's pictureBrad Keating

Delayed Back Pain After Car Accident - What to Know

Updated: Jan 17

To experience delayed pain a few days after a car accident is a scary thought. This injury symptom begins anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after the situation happened. Sometimes, it might take longer.

Having pain after a car accident is normal, but delayed pain might mask the symptoms of severe injuries, so it's crucial to see a doctor after a car crash or whenever the pain develops.

Roughly 50 million people sustain non-fatal car accident injuries each year, and many of those result in a long-term disability. Visible injuries include bruises and scrapes, but they're much easier to diagnose than the pain that occurs under the skin's surface. Even if a car accident victim feels okay afterward, they should still see a medical professional to ensure that they haven't sustained hidden injuries, such as neck injuries and head injuries.

If someone is struggling with issues of pain after an accident, it's time to learn more about the most common injuries that might include other symptoms. People should also be aware that if they ignore the symptoms, it could negatively impact their health and the ability to get financial compensation through a personal injury claim.

What Causes Delayed Pain After Having a Car Accident?

What Causes Delayed Pain After Having a Car Accident?

The trauma experienced during car accidents is the leading cause of pain after a car accident. Adrenaline and shock kick in during the collision, which numbs the body to any physical pain. Right after a collision, the victim's body goes into overdrive to protect itself and try to heal. Here are the three primary factors that cause pain that doesn't surface immediately:


Shock is the psychological and physical response to trauma. In physical terms, it includes a sudden drop in the person's blood pressure. Blood vessels in the feet and hands narrow to move the blood flow to other vital organs.

Psychologically, shock is the stress response creating a mental disconnection from the situation. People often feel that they're watching the events unfold from above instead of being there, experiencing the severe injury.

When someone is in shock, blood flow is directed to the most crucial organs. Therefore, the hands and feet might lose sensation because there's less blood flow to them. Overall, these areas are more prone to injury during the accident.

If someone experiences a loss of sensation with mental detachment, they might not register the debilitating pain signals or the severity of the accident as it happens. Typically, a body maintains the shocked state for a short period of time, such as a couple of hours.

Adrenaline or the "Fight or Flight" Response

The body enters a state of shock, but it also releases adrenaline (a hormone) after the car accident. Adrenaline is the fight or flight chemical, which keeps people alive during dangerous situations.

Adrenaline forces the body to self-preserve itself, so it physically shuts down the systems that don't protect it. For example, when adrenaline pumps through the body, tissue repair is halted temporarily. In a sense, adrenaline masks the personal injury by limiting the pain signals that get sent to/from the brain.

With that, adrenaline shifts the blood flow from the organs to the muscles. More blood pumps into vulnerable muscles, so the person feels stronger and is unaware of a more serious injury. This response only lasts a short period, such as a couple of hours or one day.


Inflammation is another primary cause of pain after an accident. First, the adrenaline and shock shut down the unnecessary body systems and fool the brain into thinking it isn't hurt. Once the effects wear off, the body responds to that physical damage by swelling up at the site of the injury.

Typically, inflammation increases the blood flow to the injury. Chemicals in the blood strengthen the area and protect it from harm. The person might feel the swelling before seeing it because of warmth or redness in the area. As the inflammation increases throughout the hours or days, it could push on the nerve cells to warn the victim of the pain.

How Long After Car Accidents Can Injuries Appear?

Injuries may not present with immediate symptoms and could show up many weeks after the car accident. Mild injuries are often apparent right away, such as cuts and bruises. However, injuries under the skin's surface, such as a traumatic brain injury or torn muscle, might take longer to appear. These are often called delayed injuries, and it can take hours or days before initial symptoms appear and up to two weeks for the delayed symptoms to arise.

What to Do After Developing Pain Days or Hours After the Car Accident

It's important to see a doctor immediately if pain develops hours or days after the car accident.

A person can develop pain hours after the crash, and medical treatment is the only way to diagnose, locate, and treat the source of the pain. Without proper medical care, the injury might worsen with time. This means the victim incurs high medical bills. However, hesitating to seek medical attention could also jeopardize the injury claim.

If the victim doesn't get medical care within the weeks or days following the accident, it's harder to prove to the at-fault party's insurance company that the injury happened from the crash. They still require treatment, such as medication or surgery, but they might have to cover the bill themselves or have to battle the insurance over the remainder of the payment.

Even if the victim says they feel fine or have non-serious injuries, it's best for their health to get medical treatment quickly. That way, they can seek compensation if serious damage is present after the car crash. The medical provider can perform diagnostic tests and physicals to accurately diagnose the pain. Then, the injured party that had pain delayed may seek financial compensation for the memory problems, personality changes, and the full recovery process.

Most Common Injuries After a Car Accident with Delayed Symptoms

Many people have delayed injuries from car accidents every day. While delayed symptoms often come with physical injuries, it's crucial to understand that car accident injuries could be emotional. Emotional injuries include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is common and happens even weeks after the car crash.

The most common injuries include:


Whiplash is a common cause of neck pain after car accidents. These delayed injuries happen when the energy from the collision forces the skull and neck to rapidly move backward and forward or side to side. Such an unexpected motion stretches and tears the structures in the neck, such as:

  • Nerves

  • Facet joints

  • Tendons

  • Ligaments

  • Muscles

General symptoms that occur with whiplash include dizziness, headaches, trouble sleeping, neck stiffness, shoulder pain, neck pain, and swelling. Because of the body's natural response, the swelling and stiffness could be delayed for 24 hours or up to eight days. The person may experience pain after a car accident, but they don't realize this traumatic event did so much damage, even weeks later.

Soft-tissue Injuries

Soft-tissue injuries include damage to the ligaments, muscles, nerves, and tendons in the body. Overall, soft-tissue damage can happen in the form of sprains (tears in the ligaments) or strains (tears in the tendons and muscles). As with whiplash, a soft tissue injury includes an inflammatory response to protect those areas during impact.

Overall, they are delayed injuries that happen days after the car accident. Symptoms of soft tissue damage include:

  • Swelling

  • Bruising

  • Weakness

  • Limited range of motion

  • Muscle cramping or spasms

  • Warmth or redness at the injury site

  • Tenderness and pain at the injury site

Back or Spinal Injuries

Back pain after experiencing a car accident could indicate severe injuries to the vertebrae, muscles, and spinal discs. Typically, a back injury like a herniated disc puts more pressure on the person's surrounding nerves, alerting the victim of the injury many days after the car accident happened.

A pinched nerve sends the victim to the doctor, even though the initial injury was a herniated disc in the spinal cord.

Typical symptoms of a spinal injury or back injury include:

  • Neck pain

  • Numbness and tingling

  • Muscle cramping or spasms

  • Tenderness or pain at the injury site

  • Warmth or redness at the injury site

  • Sharp pains when coughing or moving

  • Limited mobility or range of motion

  • Stiffness and soreness

  • Lower back pain

Delayed injuries like these may result in permanent paralysis. A spinal cord injury is a traumatic event, so it's crucial to go to a doctor if there's any concern of a spinal injury to the spinal discs.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Along with a spinal injury, people could experience a traumatic brain injury, which happens when the brain is moved around in the skull. During an accident, the vehicle rapidly moves, which causes the brain to slam against the wall of the skull. This can damage brain tissue and create excess fluid, bruising, or internal bleeding.

Symptoms of delayed injuries like this include:

  • Double or blurry vision

  • Decreased consciousness

  • Amnesia or a loss of memory

  • Sensitivity to sound and light

  • Difficulty concentrating or confusion

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Emotional changes

  • Headache

A traumatic brain injury could be life-threatening if left untreated because it could cause internal bleeding in the brain or a blood clot. Sometimes, it takes days for the brain to register all that damage, and it's considered an ongoing crisis that contains several injuries at once.

For example, cognitive symptoms (memory loss) could take many days to register the symptoms because of the brain damage.


Concussions are a mild form of the traumatic brain injury, which is caused when the blow to the skull damages the brain. They are common during an auto accident when the victim's head slams into the airbag or steering wheel on impact. Symptoms can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Pain at the skull's base

  • Temporary amnesia (memory problems)

  • Losing consciousness or fainting

  • Disorientation and confusion

  • Emotional changes

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

A concussion is much like the more severe TBI because it can have delayed symptoms. A loss of consciousness or fainting typically happens at the accident scene. However, other injuries or symptoms can appear months afterward.

Delayed Symptoms to Watch for After a Car Accident

After being in an auto accident, the victim must watch for various delayed symptoms in the hours and weeks following the incident. Most of the symptoms indicate one of the delayed injuries talked about earlier. Some of them, such as stomach pain, are signs of other injuries that might be life-threatening.

Here are the delayed symptoms to consider. See a doctor for appropriate treatment options if any of them seem familiar:

Behavioral Changes

Car accidents could cause the victims stress, but some personality changes indicate a serious injury instead of the trauma response. Behavioral or personality changes include anxiety, unexplained mood swings, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can be from a concussion, which is a minor brain injury, or from traumatic brain injuries.

Tingling and Numbness

Delayed pain from an auto accident often includes that pins-and-needles sensation or tingling/numbness in the person's extremities (hands and feet). They are often caused by a pinched nerve or other nerve damage. If the person feels numbness in the legs or arms, they could be having a more serious spinal column or neck issue.

Back Pain

Back pain is the umbrella term for dull, throbbing, shooting, and radiating pain to the nerves, vertebrae, ligaments, and muscles. For example, low back pain after a car accident could be from a herniated disc or other damaged discs in the spine. Upper or middle back pain might indicate whiplash or serious spinal cord injuries.

Shoulder/Neck Pain

Delayed shoulder pain or neck pain involves swelling and tenderness at the injury site. People may also experience numbness and a reduced range of motion. The structures of this area are interconnected, so this type of pain might be from back injuries or whiplash issues. Car accidents with a sudden stop might lead to pain in those areas.


Delayed dizziness after a car accident can create a woozy sensation, as though the head and body move in circles to cause a loss of balance. If someone experiences dizziness days after, it might be a sign that they have a TBI or concussion.


A headache is the most common side effect found after being in a car accident. If the headache continues for a few days or weeks after the car crash or gets worse with time, the victim likely experienced a serious injury. Headaches might indicate a neck injury or a brain injury, but a blood clot could also be to blame. Blood clots can be fatal, so it's best to be aware.

Stomach Pain

Mild bruising from the seat belt is common for auto accidents. However, if the bruise gets bigger or the victim experiences more abdominal pain, they might have internal bleeding.

Internal bleeding is a sign of serious organ injury and may require surgery. The primary symptom is abdominal pain, but it's not the only one. Generally, internal bleeding can't be seen on the outside or felt. Therefore, after an auto accident, it's best to get checked for delayed pain if and when it happens.

The sooner the car accident victim addresses the internal bleeding, the better!

What Might Happen If a Victim Ignores Delayed Pain

What Might Happen If a Victim Ignores Delayed Pain

Nothing good comes from delaying medical attention or ignoring pain after a car accident. In the best situation, the injury doesn't get any worse, but it might cause chronic pain with time. However, the worst-case scenario is that the injury is life-threatening and fatal. With those odds, it's best to seek medical attention to find hidden injuries.

If a person doesn't seek treatment options, they could give the at-fault party's insurance company ammunition against the injury case. The insurance adjusters can argue that the pain experienced isn't that bad because they didn't get medical treatment immediately. Therefore, they could deny or minimize the claim.

With that, people involved in a car accident only have a short period where they can get restitution. Though the pain might last long after a car accident, Ohio law requires people to file two years from the crash date to have a chance at compensation.

How Car Accident Attorneys Can Assist Those with Delayed Pain

It's hard and upsetting to experience delayed pain after a car accident, and most people want to take action. Though they still experience symptoms long after a car accident, they want compensation from the at-fault party. An example would be reaching a settlement for a back or neck injury caused by a car accident.

The insurance company isn't likely to support accident victims; it wants to spend as little as possible on the accident. However, victims can't know if they have delayed injuries for a while.

Therefore, it's best to file a personal injury claim through a motor vehicle accident lawyer. This professional can handle the insurance companies and understands how car crashes can lead to poor health for many years to come.

Those who want superior care and compensation for rear-end collisions should request a free consultation from a Columbus motor vehicle accident lawyer at The Keating Firm.


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