Chest pain after an accident is a serious symptom. Many cases of chest pain after an accident result from bruises, strains, or fractured ribs. But chest pain can also signify something more serious, like heart or lung damage.
Car accidents, for example, often result in chest pain due to seat belt injuries. In most cases, seat belts cause minor bruises and muscle strain. But in severe cases, a seat belt can fracture a rib or even puncture a lung.
Read on to learn about chest injuries and the compensation you can seek for them.
What Is the Structure of Your Chest?
In humans, the thorax begins at the base of your neck and runs down to your diaphragm. This section of your body contains your heart, lungs, trachea, esophagus, and the nerves that control them.
A chest injury usually refers to an injury to the musculoskeletal structures of your thorax. A thoracic injury typically refers to an injury to the organs, blood vessels, and nerves inside your thorax. Chest injuries involve damage to the bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments surrounding the chest cavity.
Your chest includes your rib cage. You have 24 ribs arranged in 12 pairs. Each of these ribs forms a joint with a vertebra. Ligaments hold the ribs to your spine. These ligaments form a tough, flexible connection between your ribs and vertebrae.
You have seven pairs of ribs at the top of your rib cage. These true ribs form a joint with your sternum through pieces of cartilage.
You have three pairs of false ribs below your true ribs. Unlike your true ribs, the false ribs do not attach to your sternum. Instead, they attach to the true ribs through segments of cartilage.
At the bottom of your ribcage, you have two pairs of floating ribs. These ribs only attach to the spine and float in the front.
Intercostal muscles sit between your ribs. These muscles help you breathe by expanding your chest. Muscles over your ribs, like your pectoralis muscles, help you carry your body weight and turn and bend your chest.
What Can Cause a Chest Injury?
Chest injuries have three primary causes, including:
You suffer penetrating trauma when something strikes your chest and causes an open wound. For example, you might suffer a penetrating injury in a bicycle accident if the handlebars penetrate your chest.
Penetrating injuries are very dangerous because the penetrating object can enter the chest cavity and damage the heart or lungs. Penetrating injuries can also bleed profusely and become infected.
Blunt trauma results from an impact with an object that does not create an open wound. You might suffer blunt trauma in a slip and fall accident when your chest hits the ground. Blunt trauma can fracture ribs, tear cartilage, or damage ligaments.
Hyperextension injuries happen when the chest gets stretched. In a car crash, for example, the bending and twisting of your body during the collision can stretch and tear the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage in your chest.
What Types of Chest Injuries Can Occur?
Chest injuries include damage to many structures in your chest, including:
Sprained or Strained Chest
Strains occur when the muscles or tendons get stretched or torn. Chest strain often happens as a result of hyperextension or blunt force injuries.
Symptoms of chest strain include:
- Pain, particularly when inhaling
- Limited range of motion when bending or twisting
- Swelling in the chest muscles
- Muscle weakness and spasms
Sprains happen when the ligaments holding your ribs to your spine get hyperextended or torn.
Some symptoms of a sprained chest include:
- Joint pain in the back of your chest near your spine
- Swelling in your back
- Back stiffness
Both strains and sprains will heal in four to six weeks. Your doctor will prescribe rest and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling. Doctors rarely operate to repair a sprained or strained chest.
Penetrating trauma, blunt trauma, or hyperextension can tear the cartilage in the front of your chest. This, in turn, can cause the rib to dislocate.
A dislocated rib can cause:
- Pain in the front of your chest
- Swelling near your sternum
- Loose rib
- Popping sound or sensation in your chest
The symptoms of a dislocated rib can last months because cartilage heals more slowly than other tissue. Your doctor will prescribe rest and anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the swelling. As the swelling goes down, your rib should slip back into its normal position.
Blunt force trauma can fracture a rib. Doctors diagnose fractured ribs using X-ray imaging. But you can usually distinguish a fractured rib from a dislocated rib if you feel pain in your side rather than the front and back of your chest.
Doctors used to tape your chest to stabilize a fractured rib. But this treatment increased the risk of pneumonia because you had to take shallow breaths. As a result, doctors no longer tape your chest for a rib fracture. Instead, your doctor will probably prescribe anti-inflammatories and light activity for four to six weeks.
The exception to this treatment happens if you fracture multiple ribs in multiple places. This condition, called flail chest, can be life-threatening because you have loose pieces of ribs in your chest. As a result, your doctor will likely need to operate to stabilize your fractured ribs.
What Are Some Complications from Chest Injuries?
A chest injury can lead to a thoracic injury if a penetrating object or a rib punctures the chest cavity. A collapsed lung can result from an air leak that allows air to enter the chest and surround the lung. A collapsed lung can kill you or cause permanent lung damage without emergency treatment.
Cardiac tamponade results from blood pooling in the pericardium. This membrane around the heart protects it from infection. But if the membrane fills with blood, it can strangle the heart and prevent it from beating.
How Do You Get Compensation for a Chest Injury?
If your injuries have resulted from someone else’s negligence, you can seek compensation. To get compensation, you must prove that the other person acted intentionally or negligently in causing your injury.
A chest injury can cause severe pain and life-threatening lung or heart damage. To discuss the compensation you can seek for the effects of a chest injury, contact Schultz & Myers Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation. Call us today at (314) 444-4444.