Your body does one thing after a car accident. It releases adrenaline. It doesn’t matter if you were involved in a minor fender bender or a serious collision. The fight or flight response blocks your pain receptors. That means you might not notice an injury until hours or even days later. So when should you visit an orthopedic doctor for shoulder or back injuries?

When Should You See an Orthopedic Doctor for Shoulder or Back Injuries Caused by a Car Accident?

How Your Body Copes

Just before the crash, you probably saw or heard danger. Your amygdala was activated. This part of your brain examined what was going and immediately sent a distress signal to your hypothalamus, which oversees your physical responses. Activating your sympathetic nervous system, it unleashed a flood of the hormone epinephrine –– also known as adrenaline.

Produced by the adrenal glands, this hormone speeds up your heart rate and raises your blood pressure. When you are experiencing adrenaline, you’ll breathe more rapidly as your lungs open wide. Your senses will sharpen as glucose pours into your bloodstream. Unfortunately one of the components of this natural fight or flight response is the release of endorphins –– natural pain killers. That’s why you may not feel any serious pain immediately after a car accident.

When you do, your first instinct might be to tough it out. That’s a mistake. Untreated, that soreness or numbness you feel in your back and shoulder can lead to a debilitating injury. It may require expensive medical treatment including surgery and physical therapy. If someone else caused the accident, their insurance carrier should be covering this cost. If you plan to hire a personal injury lawyer to file a lawsuit, they will want documentation of your injury.

So, whether you didn’t seek medical attention or just saw your primary physician, visiting a qualified orthopedic specialist is very important if you are experiencing pain in your shoulder or back. This type of doctor focuses on treating injuries of the joints, nerves, and bones. Besides offering a diagnosis, they can help you with a treatment program or even surgery if it is needed.

Shoulder Injuries

The morning after a crash, you might wake up with soreness in one of your shoulders. You might have difficulty reaching toward your back or notice pain when you sleep on your side. This can be a symptom of a torn rotator cuff. This collection of tendons and muscles surrounding the shoulder joint keep the top of your arm bone in place.

For young adults, car crashes are the most common cause of rotator cuff injuries. Often caused by the seat belt or other restraint, without treatment, the condition can progress –– until you are unable to complete a normal range of motion, fully stretch your arm away from your body, or handle even a lightweight. Less common, but far more serious, includes fractures or dislocations of the shoulder and its surrounding bones.

Back and Neck Injuries

The most common type of back or neck injury is whiplash. Often, whiplash is the result of a rear-end collision when your head and neck move rapidly forward and back while the rest of your body remains in place. This can damage the muscles and ligaments in your neck. It is also responsible for soft tissue damage.

Often dismissed as minor, left untreated it might not heal completely. Physical therapy is usually recommended. Less common back injuries include spinal fractures and spinal cord bruises. They often occur in older cars without of date passive resistance devices, where the seat belt doesn’t fully engage or there is no shoulder restraint and the upper body moves forward rapidly while the lower body is held in place.

These injuries can be permanently disabling and often require surgery. If you suffer shoulder or back pain after a car accident, it’s vital that you visit a qualified orthopedic doctor.