It wasn't that bad of an auto accident. At least, it didn't seem like it at the time. You were slogging through another morning commute to the city when you heard a loud crunch, and your head jerked back and forth.
The collision was low speed, but it packed a punch powerful enough to smash your taillights and push your car into the car in front of you. Still, you felt okay. You took notes. You exchanged information with the other motorists and dealt with the situation.
Fortunately, you didn't sign a release form for settlement with the at-fault driver's insurance company because a few weeks later you discovered the signs of whiplash. So, what now?
It's not unusual for injury-related pain after a car accident to be delayed. You may not be aware you have a serious injury until later. Below are some guidelines to help ensure that you get the compensation you need if car accident-related delayed pain doesn't show up until days or even weeks after the incident.
How Do Endorphins Conceal Accident Symptoms?
Endorphins are natural painkillers produced in our bodies. They play a crucial role in our ability to handle stress and pain. During stressful events, the body releases endorphins to help cope with the shock and pain of the situation.
Car accident victims may initially feel little to no pain, thanks to the surge of endorphins that:
- Mask discomfort
- Induce a temporary sense of euphoria
This endorphin rush is the body's response to protect itself from immediate danger. It's a carryover from our ancestors' fight-or-flight response to life-threatening situations.
The danger of this natural protective measure is that it can conceal severe injuries in the aftermath of an accident. Ligament strains, soft tissue damage, internal injuries, and even fractures may initially go unnoticed due to the endorphin-induced state of shock. As a result, car accident victims may not seek immediate medical treatment. This can lead to complications or long-term damage.
Once the production of endorphins slows down and they begin to leave the body, usually a few hours to several days after the accident, pain and discomfort from accident-related injuries may start to surface.
This underscores the importance of seeking immediate medical care after a car accident, regardless of how you feel. Immediate medical attention ensures early detection and treatment of any injuries that may not be clear due to the initial rush of endorphins. Even if no severe injuries are evident, you may have suffered soft tissue damage or strains to ligaments. This could cause complications if left untreated.
Seeking medical treatment after a car accident protects your health and provides a medical record of your injuries. This can help your case if you need to file an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
Types of Pain After a Car Accident That Are Often Delayed
Sometimes a headache is just a headache, but if you were recently involved in a car accident, neck or head pain could indicate a more serious injury that wasn't clear at the time of the accident. If the airbags deployed during your car crash, it is essential to discuss this with a medical professional. Document any injuries received from airbags or seat belts, such as burns or bruising.
You should get immediate medical attention if you have suffered any of the following types of delayed symptoms after a car wreck:
- Headaches: Pay special attention to the location and severity of the pain. It could be stress-related or a sign of concussion, traumatic brain injury, whiplash, neck injury, or even a blood clot. A serious headache following the accident could also be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Pain in the Neck or Shoulders: This is often a sign of whiplash (a catch-all term for several different injuries), which is sometimes experienced right after an accident but sometimes doesn't emerge until several days later. Neck pain and shoulder pain could also indicate a spinal injury, such as a herniated disc.
- Back Pain: Back pain, especially in the lower back, may also indicate a whiplash-related injury. It also could signal a sprain, herniated disc, or other soft-tissue injuries (such as muscle damage). If accompanied by tingling or numbness, it could also point to pinched nerves and/or spinal injuries.
- Numbness, Tingling, etc.: These types of sensations, in addition to weakness in the limbs, often indicate a herniated disc that pinches or presses up against nerves in the spine. This pinching can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and other sensations throughout the body.
- Abdominal Pain: Internal, soft-tissue injuries can be very serious, even fatal if left untreated. If you experience abdominal pain after an accident (which may surface days after the incident), get immediate medical attention. Internal bleeding also may cause headaches, dizziness, and deep bruising.
- Emotional Pain and Suffering: After the initial post-accident chaos subsides, you may experience depression, anxiety, or even PTSD. This could be related to the actual incident, a result of physical injuries, or both. Brain injuries also may cause emotional pain or personality changes.
Wait Before You Sign a Release of Liability for Settlement
It is customary for the injured party to sign a release of liability form after settling a car accident claim with their insurance company. It ends the lawsuit (if applicable) and all future claims related to the incident. If you sign this form before having an opportunity to discover the injuries you may have sustained in a car accident, you may lose out on compensation for injuries you weren't aware of. Get a complete medical evaluation and consult with a car accident lawyer before you sign any such release.
My Pain After a Car Accident Was Delayed: What Now?
As long as you haven't settled your claim and signed a release of liability with the at-fault driver's insurance company, it's not too late to get compensation for delayed injuries. Make sure you get an accurate estimate of any future medical costs you might incur.
A rule of thumb is to wait until you have achieved "maximum medical improvement (MMI)." This term refers to the point at which your condition has stabilized, and you have reached as full of a recovery as can be expected. At this point, chances are pretty slim that as-of-yet-undiscovered injuries will surface.
Get Legal Advice About Your Car Accident Injury Claim From a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you've been in a car accident, you may have sustained injuries that won't manifest as symptoms until several days later. While you may be anxious to settle your claim right away, remember that time, to an extent, is on your side. Have a local motor vehicle accident injury attorney evaluate your claim. Many car accident attorneys offer free case evaluations and can help you achieve the best outcome possible.