When to Seek Medical Care After a Car Accident
A car accident can be a traumatic experience and can have catastrophic consequences, both physically and financially. Sometimes injuries are immediately obvious after a collision, such as broken bones and lacerations. However, in many cases, injuries are not immediately apparent and may take several days or even weeks to show symptoms. It is important to understand that these injuries are no less serious. In fact, “invisible injuries” such as internal bleeding and traumatic brain injuries can be just as life threatening as obvious physical trauma. Additionally, soft tissue injuries to the back and neck can be debilitating and can take months or even years of expensive physical therapy to heal fully.
Should I See a Doctor?
If you have been involved in a car accident, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. This is true even if you believe you are fine and have no obvious injuries. Seeking immediate medical care is important for a number of reasons. First, as noted above, many times injuries are not immediately apparent. Just because you cannot tell you are injured does not mean that you are fine. Additionally, the longer you wait to see a doctor the more risk you expose yourself to physically. Some injuries, like internal bleeding or traumatic brain injuries, can have fatal consequences if not immediately treated. Other injuries, while not life threatening, will get worse without treatment, and a proper medical assessment will allow you to detect and treat them sooner than waiting for full-blown symptoms to appear.
Why is Pain Delayed?
Many people experience delayed pain after a car accident. In the immediate aftermath of the collision they may feel little to no pain, only to begin noticing severe symptoms three to five days following the accident. This occurs for a variety of reasons. In a car accident, your fight-or-flight response is activated, meaning your adrenaline is pumping even after the accident is over. Adrenaline suppresses pain signals to the brain. This means that while you may legitimately be injured, your brain is not perceiving the pain because of this heightened survival response. In the days following the crash, as the adrenaline wears off and you return to your normal baseline, you may become more aware of the pain.
Soft tissue injuries, such as whiplash, herniated disks, pulled ligaments, and sprained muscles, may also take days to become fully apparent. Many people recall feeling stiffness or discomfort in their neck or back after a car crash, but do not want to make a big deal about it or assume that it will pass. However, after a couple of days they may notice that their range of motion in that area is becoming more and more limited and that the pain is increasing. These signs are important to pay attention to as they can be indicative of a serious injury that can become debilitating if left untreated.