A car accident will put tremendous pressure and force on certain parts of the body, causing severe injuries in most cases. Shoulder injuries are particularly common in collisions. Speed and force will determine the severity of the shoulder trauma.
The shoulder is the joint with the greatest range of motion out of any joint in your body. Any damage to the shoulder can result in a lifelong disability, affecting your ability to work, enjoy a good quality of life, and even perform daily activities.
Medical bills for a shoulder injury can be costly, depending on the diagnosis, treatment, and if rehabilitation is required. Some injuries are severe enough that you might not be able to work or return to the same job and salary.
Shoulder damage is common because the shoulder is made up of a complex set of bones: the scapula, clavicle, and humerus. These bones work in conjunction with cartilage, membranes, soft tissues, muscles, tendons, and joints to provide a wide range of motion. Major bone support systems in the shoulder include:
- Labrum: Cartilage that surrounds the shoulder socket to create a socket for the ball to stabilize the joint.
- Rotator cuff: Muscles and tendons covering the top of the upper arm bone to keep it in place and enable the arm to rotate.
- Deltoid: The largest and strongest muscle of the shoulder, providing the strength to lift the arm.
- Biceps tendon: A tendon that attaches to the upper biceps muscle, allowing the elbow to bend and the forearm to rotate.
Since there are so many working parts of a shoulder, it may take some time for an injury to reach the point of noticeable pain, swelling, or the inability to move normally. It is important to remember that a lack of pain does not mean the absence of injury.
Your body is designed to mask pain temporarily after an accident. You may think that your shoulder is just a little sore, but then you experience agonizing pain hours, days, or even a week later. Always seek medical care. Minor pain is often indicative of a larger problem.
The following are the most common types of shoulder injuries that occur in car accidents.
Rotator Cuff Tear
The muscles and tendons that comprise the rotator cuff are commonly damaged in a car accident. The cuff’s four major muscles stabilize the upper arm bone, where it meets the shoulder blade and collarbone. Muscles and tendons in the cuff can tear upon force and impact, destabilizing the upper arm bone and rendering the person unable to rotate their arms.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Many ligaments, muscles, and tendons surrounding the shoulder bones can be forcefully damaged and torn when the shoulder suffers blunt force trauma. The shoulder can easily hit the steering wheel, dashboard, or ground if thrown from the vehicle. These tissues can also be pierced and severed from glass or other sharp objects.
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. When the upper arm bone separates from the shoulder done, dislocation occurs. This can happen quickly from the force of impact in an accident and needs medical intervention.
Shoulder Joint and Labral Tears
In addition to the rotator cuff, the labrum, the fibrous tissue that supports the ball-and-socket joint, can also tear. This type of tear will often lead to a partial or total shoulder dislocation.
Sprain and Strain
A sprain is a soft tissue injury. It happens when the ligaments surrounding a joint are stretched further than their normal range of motion, which often occurs in a car crash. A sprain or strain that goes undiagnosed and untreated can lead to permanent damage.
A fracture is a break in the continuity of a bone, such as the upper arm bone, shoulder blade, or collarbone. Fractures can range from minor cracks to severe breaks. They can go unnoticed because the person has little pain or assumes pain is from a tissue injury. However, a fractured bone of any severity needs proper treatment because it can result in arthritis or another lifelong condition. Broken collarbones and fractured shoulder blades or upper arm bones are not uncommon in a car crash.
Most people consider whiplash a neck or spine injury, but it also affects the shoulder. The violent back-and-forth jerking in an accident can cause the shoulder to stiffen and lock up. Whiplash needs to be treated right away.
What Are the Symptoms of a Shoulder Injury?
If you are involved in a car accident, always let the paramedics at the scene check you for injury, including your shoulders. Never ignore seemingly minor soreness or swelling. If any new symptoms occur, such as the following, you might have a shoulder injury:
- Bruising in the area of the shoulder, collarbone, upper arm, and shoulder blades.
- Discoloration of areas surrounding the shoulder.
- Shoulder, elbow, and wrist pain when trying to move them.
- Difficulty moving, raising, or lowering your arm.
- Complete inability to move your shoulder.
- Cramps or spasms around the shoulder or down the arm.
- Tingling and numbness around the shoulder area.
- Swelling, weakness, pain, and tenderness of the shoulder, neck, collarbone, and arm.
- Bulge or lump near the collarbone or on the shoulder itself.
- Popping or cracking sounds.
- Stiff neck, inability to move neck.
How Are Shoulder Injuries Treated?
Always accept medical help from paramedics, and then follow up with your primary doctor, no matter how minor the pain seems. It can take time for injuries to surface, but you will have wasted potential treatment time by waiting around or ignoring the signs. A treatment plan can include some or all of the following diagnostics and therapies.
Your doctor may start by performing range-of-motion tests on you. You will be asked to perform a series of movements to determine how well you can use the affected shoulder and arm. When you cannot move your shoulder at all, your doctor may start with diagnostic imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds. They will often refer you to a specialist, such as an orthopedist.
Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor and specialist will develop a treatment plan that could include:
- Physical therapy.
- The use of splints and slings.
- Injections for pain and swelling.
- Help may be needed in the home and with daily living activities.
After treatment, a plan for shoulder healing will almost always require longer-term physical therapy for rehabilitation. Most of the time, this therapy is conducted on an outpatient basis. For severe injuries, a temporary stay in a rehabilitation facility may be necessary.
Physical therapists will have you perform a range of exercises and other activities to strengthen the shoulder and surrounding bones and tissues. Therapy may be required for months or even longer.
Getting prompt medical care does not always prevent future harm. Any weakness the shoulder suffers can make a person more susceptible to future tears, breaks, or dislocations. They may also suffer from painful scar tissue and arthritis in the affected area.
Pursuing a Legal Claim
Since shoulder injuries can cause devastating short- and long-term problems, consulting with a lawyer after a car accident may be beneficial. A primary reason for this is that insurance companies do not ever offer settlements to cover your total damages. They also do not consider your future medical costs and needs.
A lawyer can analyze your legal claim, then present your options. They will consider the following when calculating potential damages:
- Medical bills: Costs include hospital stays, surgeries, rehabilitation therapies, medications, medical equipment, and future medical bills.
- Disability or long-term impairment: Will the injury affect you for a long time or permanently, and if so, what are those damages?
- Lost income and investments: The inability to work or work at the same level, missed work opportunities, such as raises and promotions, loss of pensions, and similar income-related damages.
- Pain and suffering: Decreased quality of life, lost relationships, and other noneconomic damages.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Provide Legal Assistance to Those Who Have Accident-Related Shoulder Injuries
If you have a severe shoulder injury because of a collision, one of our Virginia Beach car accident lawyers can help. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we assist clients who have debilitating accident-related shoulder injuries, and we can help you attain justice. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.