Head and neck injuries are common in car accidents and are the kinds of injuries that you hear about most often. What is spoken about less often is shoulder trauma, even though shoulder injuries frequently occur in car accidents, too. A shoulder injury can be excruciatingly painful, slow to heal, and can severely restrict movement of your arm while you’re on the mend—and the damage could be permanent.
Here are the facts about what happens when you hurt your shoulder in a car accident, including typical types of shoulder injuries, common treatments, and how to get help if you’ve been hurt in a crash.
Shoulder Injuries to Watch Out for After a Car Accident
Those who have never been in a car accident are often surprised at the amount of force that even a relatively slow impact can have. At the average city street speed, around 35 miles per hour, a vehicle can be smashed and pushed for a shocking distance; at highway speeds, the damage can be almost unthinkable. Your head and neck are most vulnerable to immediate injury, but your shoulders are also vulnerable, especially if you’re not wearing a seatbelt. Even for those who are buckled up during a minor crash, the sheer strain of the body against the restraints can cause trauma to the upper body, leaving bruises and soreness that last a long time. For higher-speed collisions or when seatbelts aren’t worn or break loose from the impact, shoulder trauma can be much worse.
Some commonly suffered shoulder injuries in car accidents include:
- Torn rotator cuff. This is one of the most frequent injuries to the shoulder. The shoulder joint is braced and supported by four main muscles and tendons that both provide stability and range of motion; a tear in any location can result in extreme pain in the shoulder and down the arm, swelling, and reduced range of motion or inability to lift the arm above shoulder-level.
- Bone fractures. The shoulder is made up of three bones that come together in three joints: the scapula or shoulder blade, the clavicle or collarbone, and the humerus or upper arm bone. A break in any of these can disable your arm either partially or entirely, and it is often a very painful injury.
- Contusions. A contusion is a bruise. Bruising happens when there is damage to the tissue under the skin, breaking blood vessels and causing pain, swelling, and discoloration.
- Dislocation. A dislocation means that any one or more of the three joints in your shoulder has become separated. This can be excruciating, and it may cause additional bone or tissue damage until it’s fixed.
- Severe strains and sprains. The muscles and tendons (connective tissue that connects muscle to bone) that hold your shoulder in place can be stretched or torn during the crash. When muscle or tendon is injured in this way, it’s called a strain. Ligaments are connective tissue that connects bone to bone for joint stability. A stretch or tear of a ligament is called a sprain.
If you suspect any of these injuries at the time of the accident, you should seek immediate medical help.
Symptoms of a Shoulder Injury
The signs of a shoulder injury are usually obvious, but some injuries may not become clear until after the accident, after hours or even days have passed. In the time after your accident, be mindful of:
- Sudden shoulder pain
- Shoulder pain that gets worse at night
- Trouble sleeping from shoulder pain
- Bruising or swelling in your shoulder, neck, or upper arm
- Tenderness of the shoulder or arm
- Stiff shoulder or lost range of motion
- Inability to move your arm
- Popping or clicking from the joint when you move your arm
See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms or if they appear after the crash. If you begin to lose sensation in your arm or fingertips, or if you notice your fingertips or hand turning blue and cold, it may be a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1 or go to the hospital right away.
How to Get Legal and Medical Help After a Car Accident
If you’ve been hurt in an accident, you’re going to want medical help right away—and if the accident wasn’t your fault, you may also want to reach out to an attorney. Our FREE referral service can quickly connect you to the help you need anywhere in the Twin Cities area, whether it’s a doctor who won’t charge you up-front costs to treat your injuries or an attorney who will work hard to help you through the legal process of making an insurance claim or filing a personal injury lawsuit. Our experienced team will listen to your needs and get you to the right professionals so you can start the recovery process right away.
Just call 763-251-PAIN to speak with one of our accident specialists, or use the contact form on our website, and we’ll get back to you within the hour. Remember, our referral service is always FREE to you, so call us when you need help!