How Long Does It Take for Whiplash Symptoms to Appear?

Jul 10, 2021

Even though whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained in car accidents, many people do not have a full understanding of what whiplash entails. If you’ve never experienced it before, you may not know how to identify the condition or what symptoms to look for. While it’s important to always seek care after an accident, you should be on the lookout for specific symptoms that may indicate you need whiplash treatment. Understanding how whiplash works and what it may do to your body can help you make the best decisions for your health.

How Whiplash Occurs

Whiplash injuries occur quickly and in the exact moment of your car crash or another traumatic event like a fall or sports injury. The term whiplash actually refers to this moment of injury, in which the head is jolted forward and then backward at an unnatural speed. During an accident, the body is restrained by your seatbelt, while your head and neck are violently moved at an unnatural speed. This causes the neck’s tissues to stretch beyond their normal ability, leading to damage like strains or even tears. In severe cases, nerves or discs may be damaged in addition to muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

While whiplash happens quickly, it is not necessarily noticeable at the site of the accident.

Delayed Signs of Whiplash

In some cases, you may immediately notice the signs of whiplash, but this is rare. The stress of an accident causes your body to release the flight or fight hormone, adrenaline, and your body may even go into shock. As a defence mechanism, pain and injuries may be hidden from your brain to allow you to keep going. This can take hours, days, or even weeks to wear off fully and allow you to realize you are in pain.

Most cases of whiplash will begin to appear within the first 24 hours of your car accident, but that is not always the case. Because of this variation, it is important to seek whiplash treatment early to either rule out or identify the condition and begin recovery as soon as possible. If you have whiplash and do not know it yet, you may be worsening the condition before you seek treatment.

Know the Signs of Whiplash

The primary signs of whiplash are pain and soreness in the neck along with stiffness. This can be very mild for some people and very severe for others. In addition, there are a range of symptoms that can be related to whiplash that you may not know about.

Symptoms of Whiplash Include

  1. Stiffness in the neck and a limited range of motion
  2. Pain and stiffness in the shoulders
  3. Pain and stiffness in the arms
  4. Headaches that begin in the neck and radiate upwards
  5. Muscle spasms in the neck
  6. Irritability, anxiety, and mood swings
  7. Fatigue
  8. Trouble with concentration or memory
  9. Dizziness
  10. Blurred vision
  11. Sleep disturbances
  12. Ringing in the ears

These can be signs of whiplash or other injuries and should always be evaluated, and even if you have just one symptom you could be suffering from whiplash.

Seeking Proper Whiplash Treatment

If you have very mild symptoms, you may be tempted to avoid the doctor and allow your body to recover on its own. While it is true that whiplash generally resolves quickly, whiplash treatment is critical in making sure this happens and avoiding worsening the condition.

When you visit a doctor, they will want to rule out any other injuries that could cause these symptoms. From there, doctors can help to manage any immediate symptoms of your whiplash, offering pain relief and the ability to return to daily activities. In addition to this short-term relief, proper whiplash treatment will be designed to resolve the damage to your tissues and create a path towards recovery.

A whiplash treatment routine will involve some home remedies like heat or ice therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and rest. While you will be asked to avoid strenuous activity, it is important to keep moving in some ways so that the neck can regain strength; a physical therapist will likely help you develop some exercises to help. Unlike what you see on TV, a neck brace is not usually recommended as it prevents this strengthening of the muscles.

Untreated whiplash can lead to a chronic version of the condition that lasts months, years, or for a lifetime.


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