It is common for passengers involved in a car accident to have some shoulder pain. However, unlike obvious visible injuries, like lacerations and broken bones, shoulder injuries are more challenging to diagnose and treat.
Shoulders allow a person to complete basic activities, like getting dressed to carrying groceries. Anyone who has experienced shoulder pain, stiffness, or mobility problems can agree this type of injury can seriously impact daily life.
The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in the human body. Like a ball and socket, the shoulder joint forms where the upper arm bone fits into the shoulder blade.
The shoulder also contains several other crucial structures. The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that encase the shoulder, supporting the joint and providing a wide range of motion.
The bursa is the small sac of fluid that protects and cushions the rotator cuff tendons. The labrum is a cup-like structure made of cartilage that creates an opening for the ball-like head of the humerus to fit.
Shoulder pain after a motor vehicle accident is common for several reasons. While the shoulder is one of the more mobile joints in the body, that mobility comes at the cost of stability. It is all of the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles work together in concert to allow you to move your shoulders and arms freely. However, the complexity of the joint makes it more vulnerable to damage. Any sudden force upon the joint, as in a car accident, can shift, tear, or crush any of these structures.
Shoulder pain is also common in car accidents because trauma to the upper body or an injury to the arms, neck, and back can also be felt in the shoulder. This is called referred pain and does not usually worsen with shoulder movement.
Many people involved in car accidents have shoulder injuries because this part of the body is not well protected when seated in a vehicle. Even if the driver wears a seat belt, their shoulders can still twist forcefully, collide with the steering wheel or dash, or be struck by another object.
What Are Common Shoulder Injuries?
Shoulder injuries vary widely in cause, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Here are some of the most common:
- Bone fracture: A shoulder fracture, or break, typically involves the clavicle and the humerus bones. Shoulder bone breaks often happen when a front-seat passenger strikes the dashboard or windshield. Rear-seat passengers can make impact with the side of the vehicle or the back of the front seat.
- Dislocation: Shoulder dislocations happen when a person’s body is twisted with considerable force. If the person’s arm is raised above shoulder level when the impact occurs, the humerus can be forced out of the shoulder socket.
- Impingement: Shoulder impingement occurs when the edge of the scapula presses on the rotator cuff when the person lifts their arm. If the rotator cuff is inflamed or injured during a car accident, impingement can cause considerable pain.
- Torn rotator cuff: The muscles that form the rotator cuff lift and rotate the arm. An injury to any of these muscles can make it difficult and painful to move the arm and shoulder. Without treatment, a rotator cuff tear can leave the person with permanent weakness or loss of motion.
- Soft tissue injury: Soft tissue is any part of the body that is not bone, including shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The force of a car accident can overstretch, tear, or crush these soft tissues, impacting comfort and mobility.
- Whiplash: Whiplash happens when the force of impact jolts the head forward and then back again, causing soreness or tearing of the muscles around the base of the neck. While you might associate whiplash with neck pain, many people with whiplash also have chronic shoulder pain.
What Are the Signs of a Shoulder Injury?
After a car accident, you will probably feel a bit sore all over. It is not always easy to tell if that soreness is connected to a shoulder injury. However, it is important to take any pain or discomfort seriously. An untreated shoulder injury can result in lifelong pain and disability.
Here are some of the symptoms of a shoulder injury:
- Reduced range of motion.
- Shooting pain.
Medical Help and Diagnosis for Shoulder Pain
If you have been in a car accident and are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, you should see a health care provider. Immediate medical attention is recommended if the shoulder joint appears deformed or you have intense pain or swelling.
You can schedule an office visit if your shoulder pain is accompanied by redness, swelling, warmth, or tenderness. Always err on the side of caution and seek urgent assistance if you suspect a serious shoulder injury. MRI scans, X-rays, and CT scans are used to determine the cause and extent of a shoulder injury after a car accident.
How Are Shoulder Injuries Treated?
Treatment for shoulder pain varies depending upon the location and nature of the injury. A comprehensive care plan might involve one or a combination of treatments.
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) therapy is usually the first and least invasive form of care. This helps reduce pain and swelling. Shoulder surgery may be necessary to repair and stabilize the shoulder joint.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications are used for pain relief. Many people injured in car accidents also benefit from physical therapy to strengthen shoulder muscles and improve flexibility in the damaged joint. Recovery from a significant shoulder injury requires a great deal of time, patience, and medical care.
What Should I Do if I Have an Accident-Related Shoulder Injury?
Beyond the pain and movement problems that come with many types of shoulder injuries, you are left to face the costs of medical care and property damage. Often, this financial burden far outweighs what is covered under an insurance payout.
Fortunately, you may have another option to recover additional compensation. If you and your lawyer can show your accident injury is the direct result of another party’s negligence, you may be entitled to damages for pain and suffering and other losses.
Because Virginia uses the rule of contributory negligence, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages if they were responsible in any way for the accident. This makes the case more difficult, but the right lawyer is up for the challenge.
To assist your lawyer, it is important to remember a few key things. First, do not admit anything to the other driver, to the police, or the insurance company. Next, never apologize for the accident; that can be seen as an admission of fault. Also, never give your insurance company a verbal statement.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Can Provide Legal Help if You Have a Debilitating Shoulder Injury From a Collision
Because the shoulder is so unstable, it does not take a lot of force to cause a chronic shoulder injury in an accident. If you have been hurt in a recent crash that was caused by a careless driver, one of our Virginia Beach car accident lawyers can help. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we work tirelessly to advocate on behalf of those injured in accidents. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients in Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.