Chest injuries are very common after car accidents. During a car crash, your chest will likely hit your seat belt, airbag, or steering wheel.
Studies show that only about 2.4% of accident victims who go to a hospital report suffering chest injuries. This is probably because most chest injuries are relatively minor. However, they need the proper care and attention.
Here’s an overview of the chest injuries you might suffer in a car accident and how you can seek compensation for them.
What Is the Structure and Function of Your Chest?
Your chest, scientifically known as your thorax, sits between your head and abdomen. Specifically, it starts at your shoulders and runs down to your diaphragm. Your neck separates your head from your thorax, and your diaphragm separates your thorax from your abdomen.
Your chest protects your chest cavity. Your chest cavity contains vital organs like your heart and lungs. It also contains the major blood vessels leading in and out of your heart. Finally, your esophagus, trachea, and major airways pass through your chest.
To protect these important structures, your chest is surrounded by your ribcage. You have 12 pairs of ribs in your rib cage. At the top of your chest, you have seven pairs of true ribs. Ligaments hold your true ribs to your spine, and cartilage holds your true ribs to your sternum.
Below your true ribs, you have three pairs of false ribs. Ligaments hold the false ribs to your spine, but rather than attaching to your sternum, the false ribs attach to the true ribs with cartilage.
Doctors refer to the lowest two pairs of ribs as floating ribs. Again, ligaments hold the floating ribs to your spine, but their other ends don’t attach to anything. Instead, they float loose at the bottom of your chest.
Muscles play a critical role in your chest. In addition to giving your chest the strength to hold up your body, your chest muscles expand your chest so you can breathe. Your lungs do not have the strength to expand your chest — they must rely on your chest muscles to fill up with air.
How Do Car Accidents Cause Chest Injuries?
The occupants of a car move at the same speed as the car. This might seem logical, but most people don’t stop to consider that their bodies move at 65 or 70 miles per hour when they’re driving on the interstate.
During a car crash, your body wants to keep moving at the same speed and in the same direction as before the collision. If you don’t stop with your car, your body will fly through the windshield or bounce around the car until your body comes to a stop.
Seat belts were created to slow the speed of your body along with your car. By holding you in your seat during a crash, your seat belt significantly lowers your risk of suffering a severe injury.
Your seat belt and seat work together to slow your body down safely after a car collision. But to do this, they must exert a lot of force on your body. This force can injure your chest as your seat belt presses on you.
Car accidents can also cause chest injuries when you suddenly change direction. According to the California Highway Patrol, the most common fatal accident and the second-most common injury accident is an angle or broadside collision. In 2017, California had almost 100,000 broadside accidents that injured or killed a motorist.
These accidents happen when someone hits the side of your vehicle rather than the front or back. All the energy of a side impact collision goes into pushing your body sideways into your door or console. As your body bends and twists sideways, you can hyperextend your chest.
What Are Some Common Chest Injuries After a Car Accident?
Chest injuries can take many forms, depending on the accident and the forces you experience. Some examples of chest injuries include:
Chest Strain or Sprain
Chest strain happens when the tendons or muscles in your chest hyperextend. The stress on the tendons and muscles causes them to stretch or tear.
Symptoms of chest strain include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Muscle spasms
These symptoms can be particularly noticeable when you expand your chest as you inhale.
A sprained chest happens when the ligaments holding your ribs to your spine hyperextend.
When these ligaments stretch or tear, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Limited range of motion
- Chest instability or “loose” ribs
One characteristic symptom that distinguishes a sprain from a strain is a popping sound or sensation as the ligament tears during your accident.
Chest strains and sprains will heal on their own in four to six weeks. You may need to rest or restrict work to light duties until you heal. You may also need physical therapy to build up the other tissues in the chest to support the injury.
The forces on your chest from a car accident can fracture a rib. Rib fractures are painful injuries, but they will usually heal on their own in six to eight weeks.
Doctors used to tape your chest to hold injured ribs in place while they healed. Doctors no longer do this because shallow breaths caused by the constriction of the tape can increase your risk of pneumonia.
The location of your seat belt over your sternum can tear the cartilage attached to your ribs. Chest cartilage will heal without surgery, but it can take several months to fully heal.
How Can You Get Compensation for Chest Injuries After a Car Accident in California?
California uses a fault-based system of auto insurance. This means you can file a claim against the at-fault driver’s liability auto insurance when their negligence results in injuries. Your claim can seek economic damages, such as medical costs and lost income, as well as non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and mental anguish. Contact or call M&Y Personal Injury Lawyers at (877) 300-4535 to discuss your accident and the compensation you can seek for your chest injury. Our car accident attorneys are available 24/7.