After the original earthquake, aftershocks happen because the edges of the two disrupted plates need to adjust to new positions. The adjustment is not always smooth, and this attempt to realign through grinding is what causes the aftershocks. Sometimes, afteshocks can cause more damage than the original quake since buildings and other elements are already damaged. Aftershocks can happen anywhere from a few minutes after the quake to even years, but they do diminish over time.
The initial quake is the largest release of tension between two tectonic plates. Afterwards, however, the plates still need to settle into position. They might grind against each other even further, causing the small quakes we know as aftershocks.
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