Shoulder Injuries From Crashes | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

The shoulder has the greatest range of motion of any joint in the human body. It also hast the most complex structure. These characteristics, along with the way people position themselves while driving and riding in cars and trucks translate into high numbers of serious shoulder injuries from crashes. That reality, in turn, means numerous innocent crash victims face serious pain, surgeries and temporary or long-term disabilities after being hit and hurt by negligent or reckless drivers.

Even following surgical repairs of shoulder injuries from crashes, people are likely to experience long-term or lifelong stiffness, limited range of motion and persistent pain. Additionally, a surgically repaired shoulder is more prone to reinjury, particularly the ligament and tendon tears that get lumped into the catchall category of rotator cuff tears.

What Can Happen to Car Accident Victims

On its website, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons lists and describes these types of shoulder injuries:

  • Fractures are broken bones. Fractures commonly involve the clavicle (collar bone), proximal humerus (top of the upper arm bone), and scapula (shoulder blade).
  • Dislocations occur when the bones on opposite sides of a joint do not line up. Dislocations can involve any of three different joints.
    • A dislocation of the acromioclavicular joint (collar bone joint) is called a “separated shoulder.”
    • A dislocation of the sternoclavicular joint interrupts the connection between the clavicle and the breastbone (sternum).
    • The glenohumeral joint (the ball and socket joint of the shoulder) can be dislocated toward the front (anteriorly) or toward the back (posteriorly).
  • Soft-tissue injuries are tears of the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and joint capsule of the shoulder, such as rotator cuff tears and labral tears.

The soft-tissue injuries are most likely to occur from what doctors call “acute trauma,” which is a category that includes traffic accidents.

Shoulder Injuries Quite Common in Rear-End Auto Accidents

Any crash—whether it involves cars, trucks, pedestrians, bike riders or motorcyclists—can inflict a serious shoulder injury. Side impacts, which are also known as T-bone crashes, often fracture collar bones or shoulder blades and leave victims with a condition called “floating shoulder.” Getting knocked to the pavement, as happens to pedestrians and bicyclists, causes shoulder separations where the collarbone pulls away from the joint.

During rear-end collisions, drivers in the vehicles that get hit from behind often suffer rotator cuff tears. This happens primarily because drivers brace themselves against the steering wheel by straightening and stiffening their arms. As their body pushes forward in response to the impact from behind, the muscles, ligaments and tendons that make up the rotator cuff literally stretch beyond their breaking points.

That chain of events can commence even in very low-speed and low-impact collisions like the kind that happen at stop signs and red lights. The same physics that trigger whiplash also tear rotator cuffs.