Frequently Asked Questions - How Long Does it Take for Whiplash Symptoms to Appear?
Symptoms as a result of a whiplash injury sustained in a motor vehicle collision, most often the rear-end type, can be experienced immediately, or they can take up to 24 hours, or even several days post motor vehicle collision to develop. Symptoms of whiplash injuries can vary by individual, and most often include head, neck, and/or back pain with tightness, stiffness, soreness, swelling, headaches, muscle strains, muscle sprains, muscle spasms, tenderness to palpation, and decreased ranges of motion. In addition to these symptoms, whiplash injuries can be associated with radicular symptoms to your shoulders, head, mid-back, and low back, as well as your upper and/or lower extremities. Common diagnoses of a whiplash injury may include strain of muscle, fascia, and tendon of the neck and/or low back. In addition to strains or sprains of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, spinal discs, or nerves, whiplash symptoms can also result in concussions, with or without loss of consciousness, in severe cases it can result in skull fractures, internal bleeding, and/or traumatic brain injuries. Whiplash injuries with pain and symptoms of a concussion, with or without loss of consciousness, may be accompanied by signs of nausea, dizziness, vomiting, not immediately experienced directly after a collision.
A whiplash injury is most often sustained as a result of forceful, rapid, back and forth movement of the neck. Whiplash symptoms post motor vehicle collision are experienced on an individual basis, depending on the injured party’s threshold for pain, the severity of the impact in the collision, and/or whether or not the individual has suffered any injury to the affected area before. Most often, these painful symptoms can result in bruising, redness, or warmth, and be felt with movement of the injured area.
There are some individuals, who experience mild pain and symptoms of a whiplash injury following a motor vehicle collision, which may consist of headaches, aches, or pain of the neck, mid back, low back, and or shoulders, depending on the severity of the impact in the collision. One example is an older person that may have recently recovered from a prior injury to the affected area who may develop much more severe or immediate pain following a motor vehicle collision, as opposed to a younger individual who has never suffered any injury before.
One of the reasons some individuals may not experience any pain or symptoms of a whiplash injury immediately following a motor vehicle collision can be due to the feeling of shock or adrenaline rush that is experienced upon impact. The shock or adrenaline rush can mask any pain or symptoms felt, that is why sometimes a day or so post collision for some individuals to develop symptoms such as painful headaches, severe neck, mid-back, or low back pain that can be accompanied by tenderness, soreness, and stiffness, as well as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the upper and/or lower extremities. For these reasons, it is imperative to seek medical attention as quickly as possible following a collision.
Even if, for example, following a low-impact rear-end collision only intermittent neck or head pain is felt, over the course of the following days, and depending on an individual’s level of physical activity, or job requirements, the pain can worsen in severity, or different areas can develop pain and symptoms of whiplash injuries. Another factor that may affect how soon symptoms of a whiplash injury appear can be attributed simply to a person’s threshold level for pain tolerance, whether or not they were restrained, sitting in the front seat of the vehicle, and whether or not any subsequent impact occurred as a result of the initial collision. Meaning, if for example there is a high-impact rear-end collision that causes the vehicle that was rear-ended to be pushed, or to spin and strike another vehicle, or a wall for a second impact, that can result in immediate pain and symptoms. However, depending on the individual, and the level or shock or adrenaline rush felt upon impact, pain and symptoms of a whiplash injury may not become apparent until 24 hours post collision.
Other factors that may affect how soon whiplash injury pain and symptoms appear following a motor-vehicle collision can be attributed to the severity of the impact in the collision. Previously mentioned was the severity in the motor vehicle collision following additional possible impacts not to mention, any rollover collisions, collisions with commercial trucks and/or vehicles, or motor vehicle collisions where one vehicle is traveling at an excessive rate of speed and the other is either at a stop, for example a stop sign, red traffic signal, or traffic.
Areas that have previously been susceptible to injury, whether as a result of a motor vehicle collision or otherwise, can be a great factor on how soon whiplash injury pain and symptoms can appear following a motor vehicle collision. While, some symptoms can continue to worsen even with rest, ice, and over-the-counter medications, others can seem as if they “come and go” depending on the activity of the injured party. Often times with rest the pain and symptoms of a whiplash injury can seem mild or moderate, whereas walking, standing, sitting, bending at the knees and/or waist, climbing stairs, reaching, and/or lifting can intensify these symptoms to what can debilitating. These pain and symptoms do not only cause severe discomfort, they can also interfere with sleep, work, home related duties, or any activity that is directly affected by the injured area.
Some whiplash symptoms can be resolved with the appropriate course of care, as directed by a physician, the proper medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription, or simply rest. Other whiplash symptoms may not be entirely resolved despite the appropriate course of care, conservative treatment modalities, or pain management, which in turn affects the individual on a long-term basis. That is why, again, seeking immediate medical treatment from a medical professional following a motor vehicle collision is so important. Even though some symptoms can be delayed, by already participating in a recommended course of treatment, as prescribed by a medical professional, the severity of the pain and discomfort can be better managed.
The symptoms of pain and discomfort from a whiplash injury following a motor vehicle collision are not always immediately felt, and can take even until the following day to develop, including severity of the pain and discomfort. Seeking immediate attention from a medical professional is the best course of action to determine the extent of the injury, and develop an appropriate course of care.