Chest injuries happen in many car accidents in the form of seat belt injuries. They can also happen in slip and fall accidents when your body hits the ground. Many chest injuries heal within a few weeks with rest. But some can take months to heal or even lead to life-threatening damage to your heart or lungs.
Keep reading to learn about how chest injuries happen and how you can get compensation for a chest injury.
Doctors use the term thorax to refer to the section of your body between your head and your abdomen. The thorax falls between the bottom of your neck and your diaphragm. The diaphragm separates your thorax from your abdomen.
The thorax encloses the thoracic cavity, which contains vital organs and structures, including the:
Your thoracic cavity also contains the blood vessels and nerves that connect to these structures.
When doctors talk about a chest injury, they usually mean an injury to the thorax and not anything in the thoracic cavity. In other words, a chest injury only involves damage to the musculoskeletal structures that protect and surround the thoracic cavity. These structures include the following:
The ribs are the most characteristic structure in your chest. The ribs run from your spine around to your sternum. The ribs attach to your spine through ligaments. These ligaments hold the ribs securely to your vertebrae. They also provide flexibility so you can bend and twist.
You have 12 pairs of ribs. The connection between your ribs and your sternum depends on the location of the ribs.
The top seven pairs of ribs, called true ribs, connect to your sternum through pieces of cartilage. The next three pairs of ribs, called false ribs, connect to the true ribs through a large piece of cartilage. The bottom two pairs of ribs, called floating ribs, connect to your spine like the other ribs but don’t connect to the sternum or other ribs in the front.
You have intercostal muscles between your ribs. These muscles expand your chest to help you breathe.
You also have large muscles that sit over your rib cage. These muscles, such as the pectoral muscles, help support your body weight and move your chest and arms. These muscles connect through tendons to your collarbones, shoulder blades, ribs, spine, pelvis, and skull.
The trauma that causes chest injuries can come in a few different forms.
You have penetrating trauma when an object pierces the chest and leaves an open wound. Penetrating trauma can cause severe bleeding and exposes you to the risk of infection. When an object pierces your chest wall, it can enter the chest cavity and damage your vital organs.
Any accident can lead to a penetrating injury if you fall or get driven into a sharp object. For example, you would suffer a penetrating injury if you fell onto a piece of rebar in a construction accident.
Blunt force trauma happens when you strike your chest without suffering an open wound. You might think that blunt force trauma only damages the chest wall. But if the impact fractures your ribs, the broken end of the rib can push into the chest cavity and injure the organs inside.
Blunt force trauma can happen when something large strikes your chest. A pedestrian accident could cause blunt force trauma during the initial impact of the vehicle or the secondary impact on the ground.
Your chest suffers hyperextension when it gets stretched beyond its normal shape. In a car accident, your seat belt can deform your chest, stretching the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
A chest injury can result from damage to various structures in your chest. Some examples of chest injuries include:
A rib can fracture when your chest impacts an object. Even when the impact is brief, it can still stress the ribs enough that they fracture.
A fractured rib usually heals in six weeks with home treatment. Fractured ribs typically don’t require a cast or tape on your rib cage. Doctors have found that immobilizing your chest doesn’t help your ribs heal. In some situations, taping your chest after fracturing a rib can lead to pneumonia because the tape prevents you from breathing deeply.
Your ribs can dislocate if you stretch or tear the cartilage in front of your rib cage. Torn cartilage takes a long time to heal.
If your accident stressed the ribs enough that they stretched or tore the cartilage, the rib may slip out of place and press on nearby nerves, causing:
A dislocated rib will usually slip back into place when the swelling from your injury begins to go down. Doctors will often prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and help the rib move into its correct location.
You can bruise your chest when it strikes a blunt object. Seat belt injuries, for example, can cause a chest bruise. Bruises result from rupturing the blood vessels under the skin of your chest. Bruises can cause discoloration, pain, and swelling. Chest bruises usually heal in a few weeks.
Chest strain happens when you stretch or tear the muscles or tendons in your chest. Chest sprains occur when you pull or tear the ligaments holding your ribs to your spine.
Chest strains and sprains generally heal in four to six weeks with rest, ice on the injury, and anti-inflammatory medication.
You can get compensation to cover your losses after a chest injury that was caused by another party. This compensation can cover your financial losses, such as your medical bills and lost income. To recover this compensation, your personal injury lawyer must prove that the other party acted negligently in causing your chest injury.
A chest injury can cause temporary or permanent disabilities. It can also lead to life-threatening thoracic injuries to your lungs, heart, or major blood vessels.
To discuss your chest injury and the compensation you can seek for it, contact Oresky & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation.