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Injuries suffered in a car accident can have a major negative impact on a person’s life. In Pennsylvania from 2015-2019, the number of reported crashes resulted in about 80,000 injuries each year. Many of these injuries are what are known as orthopedic injuries, which are injuries to the musculoskeletal system. These types of injuries can happen to very fragile parts of one’s body, and many times symptoms for orthopedic injuries do not show up right away after an accident, as it can take some time for the adrenaline from the accident to wear off and for an injured person to feel symptoms of an injury. Typical symptoms of orthopedic injuries are muscle swelling and tenderness, pain in the joints and bones, and the loss of normal movement in a specific area of the body. Unfortunately, Philadelphia has some of the worst rates of traffic-related accident statistics throughout Pennsylvania. Making it all the more imperative to work with a good Philadelphia car accident lawyer.
Types of Orthopedic Injuries
Each car accident is different, resulting in various different injuries and outcomes. Below are the most common types of orthopedic injuries incurred from accidents, focusing on bone and joint type injuries.
During a car accident, the impact can cause one’s body to move in a way in which the head and neck are suddenly jolted – often described as whiplash. Whiplash is probably the most common form of orthopedic injury after a car accident and there is a great deal of injury risk due to the unexpected movement. These sort of whiplash injuries have a spectrum of severity, and longevity of the injury. Some of the most common symptoms that often accompany whiplash are:
- Muscle tenderness
- Stiffness in the neck, back and head
- Mobility issues
- Pain and swelling
A fracture is a break that can happen to any bone in the body. Common fractures that arise from car accidents occur in the limbs as well as the skull. The high impact of a car crash puts a large amount of stress on the bones of the body where the impact was sustained, thus fracturing them. Car accidents are one of the most prominent causes of skull fractures, where the skull sustains such a stressful impact in the crash that the bones of the skull are broken. Bone and skull fractures manifest into symptoms such as:
- Pain in and around the fractured area
- Edema formation (which is a build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues)
- Reduced movement of the limbs or the head
- Bone(s) that appears misshapen
If left undiscovered, skull fractures can proliferate into complications such as infections, bruised brain tissue, and heavy bleeding into or around the brain. Thus, it is utterly important to catch a skull fracture after you suffer from one.
There are different types of fractures that should be noted. Compound fractures are ones that break through the skin, whereas simple fractures are ones where the bone breaks inside the body with no protrusion through the skin. A complete fracture occurs when the bone is completely split into two whole pieces, whereas a comminuted fracture consists of a broken bone that has separated into multiple separate fragments. An incomplete fracture is when the bone is not completely broken through and only a partial break occurs.
Strains & Sprains
Muscles can tear when a ligament is stretched beyond a certain point which can occur during the impact of an accident. The tearing of these muscles are known as strains or sprains. Sprains are injuries to ligaments and the symptoms are usually pain, bruising, swelling, or inability to move a joint. Strains, on the other hand, are injuries to the muscle or tendon and they cause spasms in the muscles, swelling, cramping, and limited movement. Typical treatment for strains and sprains recommended by doctors are rest along with icing, compression, elevation, and medication of the injured area.
One’s back can be significantly injured in an accident as well. Herniated discs cause the discs of the spine to shift which compresses nerves and causes pain in targeted areas. Vertebrae can also be shifted out of place, called spondylolisthesis, as well as spinal fractures and injuries to the spinal cord itself.
A car accident can cause injuries to the shoulder as well. Tears to the rotator cuff can occur in which the tendon in the shoulder is worn and torn, and an injury to this area causes inflammation and pain when trying to lift one’s arm. An individual’s shoulder can also be dislocated in a crash, known as a labral tear, where the head of the arm is completely popped out of its socket in the shoulder blade.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL) are the two ligaments of the knee that are most commonly torn by the impact of a crash. Sprains are likely to occur in the elbow, where the elbow ligaments are stretched and torn. Two other common injuries, lateral epicondylitis and medial epicondylitis, can also occur in a crash. Lateral epicondylitis causes pain to the outside of the elbow, such as warm swelling and sharp discomfort, whereas medial epicondylitis is a painful injury to the inner elbow.
Gout is an injury to the joints in which uric acid builds up and causes pain and even arthritis at times. Swelling, stinging, redness, and tenderness in the joints are also symptoms that are likely to occur with gout. One type of gout, known commonly as carpal tunnel syndrome, is found in the joints of the wrists and fingers. Gout is treated with medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and other drugs that prevent the build-up of uric acid and urate crystal formation.
Pain in the hip after an accident can indicate various types of hip injuries. The hip can become dislocated due to impact and if it is accompanied with a fracture surgery may be needed. Like many injuries to other parts of the body, a hip can be strained, sprained, or fractured as well, all varying in the type of treatment needed depending on the severity and location of said injuries.
Just as mentioned before, knees can undergo sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures from the impact of a car crash. The ACL and MCL of the knee are very susceptible to tears in an accident, and many times these injuries require surgery and rehabilitation to heal them. The cartilage in the knee can also become torn, but it is much less severe of an injury with a relatively short recovery period. The posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL, is commonly injured in what is called a “dashboard injury” because an individual’s knee can get pushed into the car’s dashboard during a crash, tearing the affected area and usually requiring surgical intervention.
TreatmentBesides physical therapy, and rehabilitation, a main step in the recovery process for an accident-induced orthopedic injury is sometimes undergoing surgery. From 2013-2014, hospitals in the U.S. tended to 1,167,656 orthopedic injuries with emergency surgical procedures.
From the list of potential orthopedic injuries mentioned earlier, some do not typically need surgery in order to heal. Broken bones and fractures will likely use a cast or brace to heal the bones without any surgery intervention. For head injuries, concussions are usually treated with careful rest of the brain as well as a gradual return to work and daily life and activities. Whiplash is also treated with rest and sometimes with analgesics to relieve muscle pain. In order to discern if you need surgery, seeing a physician or specialist to receive a surgical consultation will be your best bet. Here are the most common types of orthopedic surgeries that can potentially be needed after you undergo a car accident:
- Joint Replacement → One of the most common orthopedic surgeries. These usually involve a removal and replacement of a hip or knee joint with an artificial prosthetic implant. Surgery such as this reduces pain immensely and provides more mobility to the patient. With a knee replacement, the knee may be replaced either partially or completely with metal pieces, and the recovery time for this surgery is a few months. A shoulder replacement usually involves a metal component being inserted into the top of the arm where the shoulder socket is. The socket itself can also be replaced with a metal plate if it was damaged in the accident. Shoulder replacements have a longer recovery period than a knee replacement with the possibility of spanning a year’s worth of time. A total hip replacement, the typical type of hip replacement surgery, requires a metal piece replacing the head of the femur bone and another metal piece replacing the hip socket. A less invasive procedure for hip replacement also exists in which more of the original bone is kept. The time for recovery for a full hip replacement is upwards of six weeks.
- Debridement → In a car accident, it is common for foreign objects and debris to infiltrate the area of wound, and objects such as these can cause tissue damage and tissue death in the affected area. A debridement surgery will remove the dead tissue (or bone) and foreign materials from the wound in order to let the area properly heal.
- Arthroscopy → Usually performed on the knee or shoulder, an endoscope is inserted through an incision in the affected area and is used to examine the damaged area for joint problems. If the problem is minor, it can usually be treated at the same time as the arthroscopy procedure; if the injury is more severe, a second surgery will be scheduled to allow for more planning of the procedure.
- Joint/Bone Fusion → This type of surgery uses grafting to fuse bones together to reconstruct the joint that was damaged in an accident. With this procedure, a single bone is essentially “welded” into the place where two fractured bones used to exist. This surgery is a large step in the healing process as it provides pain relief and stability to the area that was broken. A fusion surgery can also occur in the spine wherein two vertebrae are fused together to repair the injury.
- Ligament Reconstruction/Soft Tissue Repair → This is a common surgery to repair the ACL, or the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee, but it can also occur for ligaments in the ankle. Small incisions are made and the torn ligament can be reattached, reconstructed using a graft of a tendon from another area of the patient’s body, or replaced altogether with a new ligament. Other soft tissues such as tendons and muscles can be repaired in the same ways as ligament reconstruction, and some additional apparatuses such as metal rods and plates are utilized for fixation and stabilization.
- Internal Bone Stabilization → When a bone is broken, this surgery is used to fix it into place to allow for better healing. Metal pins, screws, rods, and plates can all be used to stabilize the healing bone into a position that is conducive to speedy yet proper healing. Occasionally, these metal pieces are left to remain inside the patient’s body permanently.
The Effect on Your Life – a Need for Compensation
Orthopedic injuries that are caused by a car accident can affect many aspects of your life causing pain and suffering, loss of ability to work, and loss of enjoyment of life’s pleasures. After a car accident, you will have to deal with the car insurance companies, find the right medical providers, and try to get your life on track – all daunting tasks to try and do alone. Seeking experienced car accident lawyers to help you with your claim may help to allow you the freedom to concentrate on healing from your car accident orthopedic injuries. A car accident law firm is there to help you find the right orthopedic medical care, make a claim for your pain and suffering, lost wages and more. There is no reason to go it alone if you suffered an orthopedic injury from a car crash.