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Is Delayed Pain After an Accident Real?

The technical term for feigning injury or pain for personal gain is malingering. The slang for it is faking. The bottom line is an insurance company or lawyer will probably accuse you of either if you don’t complain of pain – or seek medical treatment for it – immediately after an accident.  

This leads to an important question. Is delayed onset of pain after a personal injury accident real?  Because this question is hotly debated in medical, insurance and legal circles, there is no easy answer. But let’s try to find out.

What is delayed pain?

A discussion of this type is not possible without first providing a general definition of pain. Fortunately, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) revised its definition last year.

The new definition is: “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling that associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”

Along with this basic definition, the task force that came up with it provided supplementary information to promote greater understanding. Among other things, the group noted that:

  • Pain is always an individual experience, the extent of which is affected by physical, mental and societal factors.
  • People learn what pain is through life experiences.
  • Someone who complains of pain should be taken seriously.
  • People can express that they are in pain in several ways.

A website that addresses back pain simply defines delayed onset pain as pain that is not manifested right away. Instead, develops a few hours to a few weeks after an accident.

Causes of delayed onset pain

Here’s where things get tricky. Experts say there are several causes of delayed onset pain. Some are physical. Some aren’t.

Because back injuries are common complaints in personal injury cases, let’s consider some causes of delayed onset pain in that context. One of the most common explanations is that an adrenaline surge, triggered by the body’s “fight or flight response” blocks the pain immediately after an accident. Another explanation is that soft tissue issues, which may not seem like a big deal right after an accident, can sometimes morph into painful “spasms” one to two days later. A third explanation is that additional activity in the days following an accident can exacerbate trauma from the accident.

Experts also say that people complaining of delayed onset back pain may do so because they are prone to suggestion, or because they are contemplating personal injury lawsuits or insurance claims.

In many cases, experts also say there is no definitive cause for delayed onset back pain.

Additional injuries where pain is not always readily apparent

Back trauma is not the only type of trauma sometimes characterized by delayed pain after an accident. People also experience:

  • Delayed headache, which is sometimes indicative of injuries ranging from concussion or traumatic brain injury to whiplash, or neck trauma. In some cases it may be indicative of a blood clot.
  • Delayed neck or shoulder pain, which is often indicative of whiplash or spinal trauma.
  • Delayed numbness, tingling and/or weakness in one or more limbs – which may be indicative of several different types of trauma, including back injuries.
  • Delayed abdominal pain  — which may be a symptom of internal injuries and/or internal bleeding.
  • Delayed emotional reaction – typically manifesting as stress, anxiety or depression. These symptoms are sometimes, but not always, indicative of physical injuries as well.

It is critical that you seek medical attention as soon as you experience any of these symptoms. First, it is important for your wellbeing. Secondly, it will boost your credibility if you do decide to pursue legal recourse.

Speaking of which, it is also absolutely essential that you refrain from signing a release of liability form too soon. Once you’ve signed it, you forfeit your right to seek any additional compensation. So if you sign it before you know how badly you’re hurt, you effectively relinquish your ability to get compensation for your physical, financial, and emotional losses.

If you were involved in a car accident, slip and fall accident, or similar circumstance and you experienced delayed pain, the Law Firm of Parag L. Amin, P.C. (LawPLA) may be able to help. Contact us for a comprehensive case evaluation. Our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys can easily determine if you have a viable claim. If so, we will let you know your legal options. That way, you can make an informed decision about what’s best for you. You can reach by filling out the contact form on our website, or giving us a call.


PLEASE NOTE: This is not a representation, warranty, or guarantee of a future result or outcome. Every case is different just like every one of our clients.