Shoulder pain after a car accident is common. The act of driving requires you to have your hands on the steering wheel, and the force and impact of the accident can deliver enough force to cause painful shoulder injuries. Any injuries to the neck and back can also result in pain that radiates to the shoulder area.
Out of all the joints in the human body, the shoulder joint has the largest range of motion therefore any damage to the shoulder can seriously affect your daily life and ability to perform common tasks. At the shoulder joint three bones, the clavicle (collarbone), humerus (arm bone), and scapula (shoulder blade), come together and are held in place by a complex group of tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bursae (cushioning sacs of fluid). Any of these many parts of the joint can be injured and cause shoulder pain after a car accident.
Symptoms of Shoulder Injuries
After a car accident these symptoms may be indicative of a possible shoulder injury:
- Pain in a precise area of the shoulder that becomes worse with physical exertion
- Tingling, weakness, or lack of feeling in the shoulder
- Shooting pain
- Burning sensations
- Difficulty and pain moving the arm or arms in any direction
- Discoloration of the shoulder area
- Cracking or popping sounds when the joint moves
- The appearance of a bump or bulge above the shoulder or near the collarbone
- Stiffness or tenderness that may be worse at night
Types of Shoulder Injuries
Shoulder injuries may be classified into three categories: fractures, dislocations, and soft tissue injuries.
After a car accident, the clavicle may be fractured and will appear as a bump or swelling at the middle of the collarbone area, impacting the movement of the shoulder. If the humerus bone is fractured, the shoulder will be severely swollen and movement will be even more limited, accompanied by much more pain.
Fractures may be diagnosed with physical exams, x-rays, or a CT scan if more detail is necessary. Fractures can often be treated without surgery unless the skin has been broken. In severe fracture cases, surgery to insert pins, screws, or plates may be required or the shoulder may even need to be replaced.
Dislocation refers to injuries where the bones on opposite sides of the joint are no longer aligned. In the shoulder area these bones are the collarbone and shoulder blade. A car accident may cause injury to the ligaments that hold the joint together. Mild dislocations are essentially a sprained ligament and can be diagnosed through physical exam and the help of x-rays. This type of dislocation can be treated with a sling and the use of cold packs and medication to reduce swelling and manage pain.
More serious dislocations are caused by tears to the ligaments holding the collarbone. The collarbone separates from the rest of the joint and is visibly out of alignment. The dislocation may be identified by a bump above the shoulder.
In the most severe cases, all the ligaments on both sides of the collarbone are damaged putting the joint completely out of alignment and separating it causing excruciating pain. If the injury cannot be healed over time with therapy, surgery may be necessary to alleviate chronic pain and prevent permanent deformity of the shoulder area. If not treated properly, a shoulder dislocation can lead to muscle damage and other chronic conditions.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft tissue injuries are those to the many ligaments, tendons, and muscles of the shoulder joint and the joint capsule itself. This type of injury can range from minor with mild pain and recovery with noninvasive treatment, to serious with tremendous pain and invasive treatment required for repair and recovery. Below are soft tissue injuries to the shoulder area that are commonly associated with car accidents:
- Torn rotator cuff: the bones of the shoulder joint are held together by four muscles that comprise the rotator cuff. The force of a car crash can tear one of more of these resulting in a potentially serious injury requiring surgery. Regardless of the severity of a rotator cuff injury it is crucial to receive the proper medical care and therapy to avoid the worsening of the condition.
- SLAP tear: SLAP is the abbreviation for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior. This refers to the labrum or ring of cartilage surrounding the shoulder joint socket. In addition to stabilizing the shoulder joint and deepening it, this strong tissue is also the point of attachment for the ligaments of the shoulder and a bicep tendon. Acute trauma from a car accident can cause a painful SLAP tear that limits range of motion and strength of the shoulder joint. Treatment ranges from non-surgical options such as anti-inflammatory medications to arthroscopic surgery.
- Whiplash: whiplash refers to the violent movement of the head during a car accident. Although seat belts prevent many injuries and save lives, they may worsen whiplash injuries because the body remains in place while the head is free to move. The sudden impact of a car accident forces the head forward and then slams it back stretching and tearing the soft tissues of the neck. In severe whiplash cases the shoulder joint can be affected by swollen tissues limiting the space in the joint for movement. As a result, the shoulder bone meets the surrounding soft tissues and painfully rubs on them. This is known as shoulder impingement.
What Should I Do After a Car Accident?
Shoulder pain should not be ignored after a car accident. Untreated medical conditions can lead to years of chronic pain and related medical issues. You might think that resting your shoulder will give it a chance to heal, but not moving it can create more painful problems. Because the shoulder joint is designed to move, lack of movement can lead to the development of adhesions. This painful condition called frozen shoulder can takes months to heal.
If you are ever in a car accident, be sure to follow these steps:
- Check yourself, your passengers, and the other driver and any vehicle occupants for injuries. For serious injuries that need medical attention call 911.
- While waiting for emergency services move the accident vehicles out of the path of traffic if necessary and it is safe to do so. Move far away from any vehicle that is smoking or smells of leaking fuel.
- Exchange names, addresses, and phone numbers with the other driver and get their driver’s license information, insurance information, and license plate number. Also collect contact information from any bystanders who witnessed the accident.
- Do not speak with any insurance agents at the scene of an accident before consulting with an experienced car accident lawyer.
- Do not apologize for anything that happened as this could be later construed as a statement of fault.
- Seek medical care as soon as you can after a car accident even if you think you escaped unharmed. Many injuries do not present symptoms immediately and your body may be in a state of shock and full of adrenaline. Sometimes it is days later when a person realizes they are in pain from the impact of the accident. While you may think you are fine, a trained medical professional can recognize the telltale signs of concussion and whiplash. Furthermore, the examination will produce a medical documentation of the accident and your condition afterwards.
- Perhaps most importantly, gather as much evidence as you can. This means taking pictures of the scene of the accident including road and weather conditions, vehicle damage, property damage, your injuries. Keep copies of all medical records, the police report, and any correspondence with the insurance company. If you are prescribed medications and follow up care, fill the prescriptions and go to your appointments. If you fail to do these things, the insurance company will say your injuries were not serious enough to warrant medical care.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Advocate for Accident Victims with Shoulder Injuries
A shoulder injury can take months to heal and seriously affect your daily life. If you need help getting compensation for your car accident injuries, contact the experienced Virginia Beach car accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group. Call 757-LAW-0000 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation about your case. From our offices in Virginia Beach, Virginia we represent clients in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore.