Shoulder pain after an accident: 3 steps to getting fairly compensated
Shoulder pain after an accident needs to be taken seriously. Whether the pain appears immediately or is delayed, the message is the same: something is wrong with your shoulder.
The shoulder joint involves three bones, multiple soft tissues, and has the largest range of motion of any joint in the body. This complexity makes the shoulder more vulnerable to injury in a motor vehicle collision or slip and fall accident.
If your accident was caused by someone else’s negligence, you have the right to seek compensation for your shoulder injury and associated pain. Unless your shoulder pain is very mild and you have a fast, complete recovery, you should speak to a successful personal injury attorney about your best options for recovering a fair settlement.
1. Know the scope and signs of shoulder injuries caused by auto accidents
When most people think of car accident injuries their mind goes straight to head, neck and back injuries - and they're not wrong. But shoulder injuries are very common after a collision. The problem is many types of shoulder pain can also be caused by overuse. Insurance companies have been known to minimize or deny injury claims for shoulder pain from a crash, claiming the injury resulted from wear and tear, not the accident.
Get informed of the facts involving shoulder injuries and car accident lawsuits, and take action to claim the compensation you deserve.
Torn rotator cuff
The most common cause of shoulder pain after a car accident is a rotator cuff tear.
The rotator cuff is a pack of muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is used when you lift or rotate your arm. While any type of auto accident can potentially cause a torn rotator cuff, the most common scenario is a rear-end collision.
When the arms and shoulders are tense, as when bracing for impact, the shoulder joint absorbs the brunt of the force. This can result in a full or partial tear of the rotator cuff.
Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff:
- Pain in the top and/or outer sides of your shoulder
- Pain in the shoulder going down the arm
- Shoulder pain present even when arm is at rest
- Shoulder pain increases with pressure, making it hard to sleep comfortably
- Limited range of motion
- Clicking or popping when moving your shoulder
- Swelling or tenderness
Rotator cuff injuries can cause severe pain and interfere with countless daily activities like brushing your teeth, turning a doorknob or talking on the phone.
Your shoulder socket has strong, rubbery tissue (fibrocartilage) that keeps your upper arm bone in place. When this tissue rips you may have symptoms including:
- Weakness and instability of the shoulder joint
- Shoulder joint locks up
- Pain during strenuous movements, especially upwards or overhead
- Feeling popping, catching or grinding in your shoulder
- Limited range of motion
Diagnosing labral tears can be difficult and may require surgery (arthroscopy) to confirm. Pain at night and during daily activities is common with labral tear injuries.
In a severe accident, the force of the impact can cause bones in the shoulder joint (typically the collarbone, upper arm bone or shoulder blade) to break. Symptoms of shoulder fracture include:
- Pain with any type of shoulder or arm movement
- Inability to move arm
- Swelling and tenderness
- Bruising or discoloration
- Other deformities
Frequently, shoulder fractures are accompanied by other injuries to the chest or back. A shoulder fracture can impact your life for weeks or even several months.
A strong impact from a collision can cause a dislocated or separated shoulder joint.
Symptoms of shoulder dislocation include:
- Severe pain in shoulder
- Muscle spasms around shoulder
- Weakness and/or numbness in the shoulder, arm, hand or fingers
- Difficulty moving or inability to move arm
- Swelling, bruising or visibly deformed shoulder/upper arm
Dislocations can be partial or total, and may require surgery if the nerves and soft tissues of the shoulder were injured by the dislocation. Suffering a dislocated shoulder also puts you at greater risk for it happening again.
Neck and shoulder pain after a car accident
If your neck and shoulder are hurting after a collision it could be whiplash. Neck and back pain after a car accident are the best-known whiplash symptoms, but whiplash can also cause pain in your shoulders and down your arms.
Shoulder injuries caused by seat belts
The force of a collision can cause your seat belt to dig into the soft tissues of the shoulder joint leading to bruising or tearing.
Seat belts typically cause these three types of shoulder injuries:
Impingement syndrome can result when the upper arm bone (humerus) is suddenly compressed back by the seat belt. Tendons connecting the shoulder muscles to the shoulder blade scrape and get weakened. Over time this can lead an inflamed, thinned, or torn rotator cuff.
Thoracic outlet syndrome can happen when a forceful impact makes the seat belt compress blood vessels and nerves in the shoulder area. This causes neck and shoulder pain and possibly numbness in the fingers. In serious cases surgery may be needed to correct it.
AC joint injury can occur when the seat belt compresses the humerus, tearing the ligaments connecting your collarbone (clavicle) and the end of your shoulder blade (acromion). Depending on how badly the ligaments are torn it can result in different degrees of shoulder separation.
Shoulder injuries caused by a seat belt can occur in conjunction with other shoulder injuries from the crash.
Related: Seat belt syndrome and other abdominal injuries caused by car accidents
All types of shoulder injuries need medical care ASAP
There are many other common shoulder injuries you could experience from a car accident, including:
- Frozen shoulder
- Shoulder impingement
- Shoulder instability
- SLAP tears
You could notice the symptoms right after the accident, or in the hours and days after. Don't ignore them. Shoulder pain following a motor vehicle collision is NOT normal, and can lead to permanent issues if untreated.
How long does shoulder pain last after an accident?
Pain and recovery time depend on the severity of injury and how many shoulder injuries are present. Shoulder fractures and rotator cuff damage often happen at the same time. In mild cases a rotator cuff tear can heal in 2-4 weeks, while severe cases can take several months to heal. Shoulder fractures typically heal in about six to eight weeks, but how long the pain lasts can vary by individual and the specific treatments used.
How long shoulder pain lasts after a car crash depends on a lot of different variables. The victim’s age, pre-existing shoulder pain (from arthritis, osteoporosis or previous wear and tear) and individual pain tolerance all make a difference.
Because pain from a shoulder injury is so personal, getting properly compensated for pain and suffering is best done with professional help.
2. Treatment for shoulder pain after an injury in an accident – don’t ignore it. Get medical care ASAP.
There are plenty of DIY approaches to relieving shoulder pain, but this isn’t the time to wait and hope home remedies will do the trick. The best way to heal completely is with professional medical care. Serious or lingering pain is a signal something is wrong. Seeing a doctor for your shoulder injury is the best move for your health and your injury claim.
Successful treatment of shoulder pain starts with a clear diagnosis of the injury or injuries.
Diagnosing shoulder pain after an accident
Because the shoulder joint is made up of multiple bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and muscles, different tests may be needed to assess the full scope of the injuries. Your doctor may use:
- CAT scan
- Clinical evaluation
Clinical evaluation can include range-of-motion testing, palpation and provocative testing such as the drop-arm test or cross-arm test. The shoulder has unique anatomy, and getting fair compensation for your injury means seeing a doctor to get to the bottom of things.
It’s also possible to experience referred shoulder pain, meaning the pain is actually coming from another part of your body – making accurate diagnosis even more crucial.
What to do for shoulder pain after a car accident
Over the counter anti-inflammatories, cold compresses and rest are the go-to home remedies to relieve mild shoulder pain after a crash. When pain and other symptoms persist despite your best efforts, you need professional medical care to really heal.
How to relieve the pain will depend on your doctor’s diagnosis and could include treatments like surgery, physical therapy, wearing a sling or corticosteroid injections.
All of these treatments cost money – money you’re on the hook for without a fair injury claim settlement.
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3. Fight for your compensation – money you deserve for medical costs and more.
Shoulder pain can be excruciating, and the effects of your shoulder injuries can take a toll for months or even the rest of your life. Fractures and dislocations put you at greater risk of recurring shoulder injuries in the future. You could also wind up with permanent stiffness or long-term shoulder impingement syndrome.
The cost of a shoulder injury after a motor vehicle accident goes beyond the dollar amount paid for medical care. Missing out on activities with family and friends, continuing to struggle with everyday tasks and missing work because of doctor’s appointments also count.
Your shoulder injury may entitle you to compensation for:
Fighting for fair compensation isn’t outrageous, it’s your right. You owe it to yourself to take a stand and make the responsible insurer pay a fair settlement to compensate all your losses from the crash.
Time limit on shoulder injury claims
In Wisconsin the statute of limitations on shoulder injury claims is 3 years from the date of the accident. This deadline is just one of Wisconsin's personal injury laws accident victims should be aware of.
Every state is different, so if you’re not in Wisconsin you should check with a personal injury attorney in your area to make sure you don’t miss your window.
Don’t wait until the last minute – the longer you put it off, the harder it is to gather evidence and build a strong case supporting your claim. Once the clock runs out you lose your right to file a lawsuit - and you’ll be stuck with whatever the insurance company is willing to offer.
Car accident shoulder injury compensation
Personal injury attorney fighting for shoulder pain compensation
Having an experienced, successful trial lawyer fighting for your case can make ALL the difference between a getting fair settlement or getting a brush-off from the insurance adjuster. Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Take action and request a free, no-obligation claim review to find out what your shoulder injury claim is really worth.
Steve Caya represents clients throughout the state. Our law office is in Janesville, but you don’t have to be. We can arrange a virtual or in-person consult at your location. All cases are handled as no win, no fee. We’ll help you get through the financial aspects of your case so you can focus on getting better.