Why Are Whiplash Symptoms Delayed?

why are whiplash symptoms delayed

Whiplash is a common neck injury caused by a rapid back and forth movement of the neck, typically from a car accident or other trauma involving the head. Delayed whiplash symptoms often cause those injured to not immediately seek treatment, causing a delay in treatment. Whiplash can vary in its severity, recovery time and the overall impact it has on your life.

How Does Whiplash Happen?

Whiplash injury is most commonly associated with being rear ended in a car accident. This sudden and rapid movement of the cervical spine can lead to the neck’s muscles and ligaments to stretch and tear, resulting in whiplash.

Whiplash can also be caused by:
Contact sports such as football or basketball
Cycling accidents
Sudden falls
A blow to the head

Most often, after a car accident, you can expect to have some degree of whiplash. From other accidents, you can expect to feel:
Neck pain and stiffness
Dizziness
Headache
Muscle tightness
Loss of range of motion or pain with motion
Arm pain

The above symptoms can vary in length of persistency from person to person lasting anywhere from a few days/weeks or in some cases, may become chronic.

Why Are Whiplash Symptoms Delayed?

Often, whiplash symptoms are not felt for at least 24 hours after the initial accident.
A few factors may contribute to the typical delay in whiplash symptoms, most often the adrenaline which usually accompanies a traumatic event can mask the presence of pain. The extreme stretch and trauma to the muscles in the neck creates swelling and inflammation of the area. When you are still overnight, the swelling stays in our muscles and aids in creating pain symptoms. Muscle strain or tears may be present disrupting our normal muscle integrity and function lending to pain and range of motion restrictions that may develop over the course of a few days.

Should I Seek Treatment?

Physical therapy can be helpful with reducing or even eliminating the above symptoms. Your physical therapist will perform an initial evaluation and determine the most appropriate plan of care for you.

Your physical therapy treatment may utilize:

Soft tissue massage/stretching of the neck muscles and mobilizations of the joints in the neck to improve mobility.
Exercises may be utilized to improve activation of the neck and shoulder girdle stabilizers which will improve posture and movement patterns/mechanics.
Modalities such as cervical traction, heat/ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation may be utilized as well for pain control.

If you have recently been involved in an accident and believe you may have suffered from whiplash, it is best to seek treatment sooner than later. Physical therapists are highly trained in treating whiplash and can help to greatly reduce your symptoms and get you back to feeling pain free.

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