Chest injuries frequently happen in accidents. For example, your chest can be injured in a car accident when it slams into your seat belt. You can also hurt your chest in a slip and fall accident where your chest impacts the ground.
Chest injuries can produce symptoms ranging from muscle pain to life-threatening lung or heart damage. Therefore, they can result in medical bills, missed work, and an inability to perform many of the activities in your everyday life.
Learn more below about the causes and effects of a chest injury, along with the injury compensation you can seek for such an injury.
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What Is the Anatomy of Your Chest?
The thorax encloses the thoracic cavity. This is the section of your body between your neck and diaphragm.
Doctors informally refer to the thorax as the chest and the thoracic cavity as the chest cavity. The chest includes several bones, including the rib cage, sternum, collar bones, and shoulder blades. In the back of the chest is the thoracic spine.
The thoracic spine includes 12 vertebrae. It sits between the cervical spine in your neck and the lumbar spine in your abdomen. These 12 vertebrae connect to 12 pairs of ribs.
The 12 pairs of ribs that make up your rib cage include seven true ribs, three false ribs, and two floating ribs. The true ribs form joints with both the thoracic spine and the sternum. In your back, ligaments hold each true rib to a corresponding vertebra. In your front, cartilage holds the true ribs to the sternum.
The false ribs also connect to the thoracic spine through ligaments but do not attach to the sternum. Instead, cartilage holds the false ribs to the true ribs.
The floating ribs attach to vertebrae in the thoracic spine in your back but do not attach to anything at the front.
Intercostal muscles between your ribs help your rib cage expand so your lungs can fill with air. Other muscles in your chest support your weight, provide leverage to your arms, and allow you to bend and twist your body. These muscles anchor to your skull, spine, shoulder blades, collar bones, sternum, and ribs through tendons.
What Causes Chest Injuries?
Trauma to the chest usually takes three forms:
Blunt Force Trauma
Blunt force trauma happens when something strikes your chest without leaving an open wound. This trauma can break or dislocate bones and stretch or tear soft tissue like ligaments, tendons, muscles, and cartilage.
Penetrating trauma happens when your chest gets hit by an object that pierces your chest and leaves an open wound. Ordinary objects, like your bicycle handlebars or a piece of rebar, can cause penetrating trauma.
Penetrating injuries often result in bleeding and infection. They can even involve organ damage if the object penetrates your chest cavity.
Hyperextension happens when your chest gets pulled or pushed beyond its normal capacity. Hyperextension can involve twisting, bending, or stretching forces. For example, you could hyperextend your chest as you bend and twist during a car crash. These forces stretch the soft tissues in your chest, potentially tearing ligaments, cartilage, tendons, and muscles.
What Are Some Examples of a Chest Injury?
Chest injuries can take many different forms, depending on what parts of the chest are injured. The examples listed below focus on the chest and exclude injuries that happen inside the chest cavity. Doctors treat those injuries, called thoracic injuries, differently from injuries to the musculoskeletal structures in the chest.
Some examples of chest injuries include:
Strained or Sprained Chest
A strained chest happens when the chest muscles or tendons get stretched or torn. These injuries often happen due to hyperextension.
Common symptoms of a strained chest include:
- Pain, particularly when inhaling
- Limited range of motion
- Muscle spasms
A sprained chest happens when the ligaments — which hold your ribs to your spine — in your chest get stretched or torn. Various ligaments also hold your shoulder blades and collarbones in place.
Symptoms of a sprained chest include:
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- Popping sensation during the injury
Sprains and strains usually heal on their own in four to six weeks. Your doctor will usually prescribe rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. You may also need physical therapy as your chest begins to heal.
Doctors rarely operate on a strained or sprained chest. Even when you have a full-thickness tear in a tendon, muscle, or ligament, doctors will usually give your body time to heal, then prescribe physical therapy to build up the area around the injury.
If you damage the ligaments or cartilage holding your ribs, you could suffer a dislocated rib. When ribs shift out of their joints, they can press on nearby nerves. This causes pain, particularly when you move or inhale. Irritated tissue will also inflame, causing swelling.
A dislocated rib will usually move back into place once the swelling goes down. But the cartilage and ligaments can take several weeks to several months to heal enough to hold the rib in the joint.
When your chest is struck with enough force, the ribs can fracture. A fractured rib will cause pain and inflammation, but unlike a dislocated rib, you will usually feel pain from a fractured rib somewhere along the bone away from the joint.
Another potential complication happens if the fractured rib pierces the chest cavity. If this happens, the broken bone can cause internal bleeding, an air leak in the chest wall, or damage to the heart or lungs. Fractured ribs heal in about six weeks.
What Compensation Can You Seek For a Chest Injury?
If your chest injury resulted from a preventable accident, you can seek injury compensation. This compensation can cover your economic damages, including your medical expenses and lost wages. Your compensation can also cover non-economic damages, like a temporary or permanent diminishment in your quality of life due to pain, mental anguish, and disability.
A chest injury can cause intense pain. It can even lead to life-threatening complications. To discuss the compensation you can seek for your chest injury, contact our office in Miami, FL, for a free consultation at Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers or call us at (305) 937-0191.