Car accidents are increasingly common. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), estimates for injuries sustained during a car accident totaled over two and a half million in 2019 alone. Soft tissue injuries are among the most common sustained during car accidents. There are many different kinds of car accident injuries, but those related to the soft tissue are sustained most often.
“Soft tissues” refer to the muscles, joints, tendons, and other tissues that surround organs in the body. This can also include fat, nerves, blood vessels, and anything else required to protect, mobilize, or sense your organs. Injuries to these tissues are qualified as acute and can cause significant pain.
Common Soft Tissue Injuries from Car Accidents
Over two million Americans experience whiplash each year. Although you do not have to be in a car in order to sustain a whiplash injury, it is one of the more common soft tissue injuries that occur as a result of a car accident. Whiplash is a condition that can occur without much force behind the impact. In fact, it has been known to happen to people who are in car accidents and driving at speeds as low as five to ten miles per hour. It is more likely to arise as an injury in people over the age of 50, and chances become increasingly likely as you grow older.
If you have a whiplash injury, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Pain intensified by movement in the neck
- Decreased range of motion in the neck
- Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull, like tension headaches
- Pain or a sense of tenderness in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
There are more serious side effects as well, including memory problems, difficulty focusing, increased irritability, depression, tinnitus (ringing or another repetitive sound in the ear), and frequent sleep disturbances.
Rotator Cuff Tear
The rotator cuff is located in the shoulder. The muscles and tendons surrounding the joint work to keep your shoulder firmly within its socket. Like whiplash, injuries in this area increase with age. Another risk factor is if you have a job that requires a lot of repetitive movement using the shoulder, such as painters or carpenters. Injuries to the rotator cuff are extremely common, affecting between two to four million people each year. Tears to the rotator cuff may be partial or complete.
If you have a tear, either partial or complete, in your rotator cuff, you may be experiencing the following symptoms:
- Pain down the arm or radiating from the side of the shoulder
- Reduced range of motion in the arm, making it difficult to raise your arm or causing pain when you move your arm a specific way
- Pronounced weakness in the shoulder
- A new inability to lift objects
- A sound like a click or a pop when the shoulder is moved
There are other conditions that cause many of the same symptoms, such as pinched nerves or arthritis in the shoulder joint. For this reason, it is important to discuss your symptoms with a doctor in order to rule out other causes contributing to your pain.
When people talk about their ACL, they are referring to one of the bands of tissue connecting your thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia). ACL stands for anterior cruciate ligament, and injuries to the ACL are felt most in the knee. ACL injuries frequently happen to athletes, particularly in those sports that involve running that ends abruptly, such as soccer or basketball. However, they can also occur during car accidents.
If you are experiencing a tear to your anterior cruciate ligament, you may notice some or all of the following symptoms:
- A sound like a pop at the time of the incident
- Swollen knee
- Instability when standing or walking
- Reduced range of motion in the knee, making walking or moving difficult
- Severe pain in the knee area that is too great to bear weight
There are several common risk factors that make you more susceptible to ACL tears. For example, these kinds of injuries are much more likely to happen to women. As mentioned before, participating in certain sports can also make you more likely to sustain an ACL injury. Using poor fitting footwear, improperly maintained sports or weightlifting equipment, poor conditioning, or using an improper technique for certain exercises (such as incorrect foot or knee placement when doing squats) are also common risk factors.
Steps to Take After a Car Accident Injury
If you have been in a car accident and suspect you have any of the injuries described above, it is important to seek help from a medical professional right away. All of these injuries can cause serious pain and, if left untreated, elevate into a significantly more serious condition. Soft tissue injuries will not show up on an x-ray, and you may need more intensive imaging, such as an MRI or CT scan.
There are many options for treatment based on what kind of injury occurred.
- Self-care is one of the most important forms of treatment. Use the RICE method to treat pain: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Limit your activity and try not to use the affected area of your body until you have healed completely.
- A chiropractor, like those at AICA College Park, can help you by performing soft tissue therapy. This form of therapy can help relieve pain and release tension in the connective tissue surrounding muscles, known as fascia.
- For some injuries, such as ACL tears, surgery may be necessary. It is important to discuss options with your doctor to help you make this important decision.