Almost every car accident results in a chest injury since your seat belt typically bruises your sternum in a crash. But accidents can also cause more severe chest injuries.
The most dangerous of these injuries happen when a foreign object or even a broken rib punctures the chest (also known as the thoracic) wall. The object can threaten your vital organs and major blood vessels, placing your life in danger.
Learn about common chest injuries and the compensation you can seek for them.
Table of Contents
Overview of Your Chest
The chest, also called the thorax, is the musculoskeletal structure that surrounds and protects the chest cavity, or thoracic cavity. This only includes the outer shell and not the heart, lungs, or major blood vessels inside the chest cavity.
The thorax extends from the neck to the abdomen. The top includes your shoulders, and at the bottom, your diaphragm separates your thoracic cavity from your abdominal cavity.
Your thorax also includes your rib cage. All 12 pairs of ribs fit into joints in your spine, and ligaments hold each rib to a corresponding vertebra.
The top seven pairs of ribs, the true ribs, attach to the sternum with cartilage. The next three pairs, the false ribs, attach to the true ribs with cartilage. The bottom two pairs are commonly called the floating ribs and only form a joint with the vertebrae. The floating ribs do not join to the sternum or other ribs.
Between the pairs of ribs sit intercostal muscles. The muscles expand and contract the chest to assist in breathing.
Muscles also overlay your rib cage, anchored by tendons in the front and back of your chest to your ribs, sternum, collarbones, shoulder blades, and spine. These muscles help you support the weight of your head and chest. They also power the bending and twisting of your upper body.
Causes of Chest Injuries
Chest injuries usually result from three types of trauma, including:
You suffer a penetrating injury when an object pierces your chest. If the object penetrates your chest wall and enters the chest cavity, it can threaten your vital organs.
Blunt Force Injury
Blunt force injuries occur when something strikes your chest without piercing it. A seat belt hitting your ribs and sternum is a common blunt force injury. Hitting your chest on the floor after a slip and fall accident also causes a blunt force injury.
Hyperextension injuries occur when your chest is stretched beyond its normal capacity. These injuries can stretch and tear soft tissue like ligaments, muscles, tendons, and cartilage.
Chest Injury Examples
Chest injuries can take many forms, depending on the tissue damaged in the accident. Some examples of chest injuries include:
Bruises happen when blood vessels under the skin tear, at which time the bleeding discolors your soft tissue. You may also experience pain and swelling.
Because of the shallow tissue over the ribs and sternum, a seat belt impact can easily bruise your chest. This injury can be quite minor, however, and most bruised chests will heal in a week or so without medical treatment.
Strained or Sprained Chest
Hyperextension and blunt force injuries can cause chest strains or sprains.
Strains happen when an injury stretches or tears a muscle or tendon. Symptoms of a strained chest include:
- Muscle spasms
A sprain happens when ligaments, such as those holding the ribs to the vertebrae, get stretched or torn. Symptoms of a sprained chest include:
- Limited range of motion
- A pop during the injury
Strains and sprains usually heal without treatment in four to six weeks. You will probably need to rest the injury and use ice and anti-inflammatory drugs to keep the swelling down.
A rib can dislocate when the ligaments or the cartilage stretch or tear. A dislocated rib can produce pain, particularly when breathing. It can also press on nearby nerves, causing pain that radiates from your chest into your arms.
A rib can fracture when it gets hit with a powerful force. Rib fractures can cause pain when inhaling or exhaling. Doctors no longer tape or wrap your chest after you fracture a rib — which was once common practice — because shallow breaths can cause pneumonia.
A particularly dangerous fracture happens when your ribs break into three or more pieces. This injury produces a flail chest, where pieces of your ribs do not attach to the rest of your ribcage. This type of injury can cause death if you do not receive emergency treatment.
Complications related to Chest Injuries
A chest injury can cause life-threatening complications, including:
The space between your lung and chest wall normally contains a vacuum so your lungs can inflate. When air or blood seeps into this space due to a chest injury, the pressure can collapse the lung.
A pneumothorax (leaking air) or hemothorax (leaking blood) requires emergency treatment to prevent lung damage or even death.
A membrane called the pericardium surrounds the heart, protecting it from rubbing against any other organs as it beats.
When you sustain a chest injury, fluid can fill the pericardium. This fluid can strangle the heart, causing arrhythmia and death if left untreated.
A chest injury can tear your aorta, an artery that carries all of the blood coming out of your heart. When it tears, you can bleed to death in minutes.
How to Get Compensation for a Chest Injury
To get compensation for a chest injury, you must show that it was caused by someone else’s negligence. You must show that the at-fault party owed you a duty of care and breached that duty by acting in an objectively unreasonable way.
If you can prove negligence, you can get compensation for your economic losses, which can include medical costs, lost income, and other financial damages. You can also get compensation for your non-economic losses, including diminished quality of life from pain, mental anguish, and an inability to perform tasks.
Contact Battle Born Injury Lawyers to Schedule a Free Consultation
Chest injuries can cause life-threatening complications. Even minor chest injuries can require extended time away from work to fully heal. To discuss the compensation you can seek for your chest injury, contact Battle Born Injury Lawyers for a free consultation with a personal injury attorney at (702) 570-9000.