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Shoulder injuries after a car accident in California

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Shoulder injuries caused by a car accident in California

Victims in car accidents often suffer shoulder injuries. It’s usually the driver who is injured, because the energy from the crash is transferred through the steering wheel to the driver that is gripping it. This is something our San Diego car accident law firm sees often.

It is such an important body structure that an injury here can greatly affect your daily activity and quality of life. Learn more about shoulder injuries, the symptoms, how they are treated, and how settlement values are reached in these cases.

A shoulder joint is actually composed of three different bones: a clavicle (collarbone), a scapula (shoulder blade), and a humerus (upper arm bone). The shoulders are actually the most movable joints in your body. No other joint has the same range of motion as a shoulder.

This is due to the way it is structured. This structure is also the reason why the shoulder is a problematic area. The shoulder is unstable because the ball of the arm portion of the shoulder (humerus) is actually larger than the shoulder socket that holds it. Think of a hat that is too small for a head. This creates the instability of the joint (but also its superior range of motion).

To remain stable, the shoulder must be anchored by muscles, tendons and ligaments. This complex structure leads to common pains, strains, dislocations, separations, tendinitis, bursitis, torn rotator cuffs, frozen shoulder, fractures and arthritis.

Symptoms of Shoulder Injuries

If you experience any of the following, seek prompt medical attention.

  • Pain. There are many types of pain, be sure to tell your doctor if the pains are sharp, dull, lasting, fleeting etc.
  • Weakness. This can be due to true muscle weakness, or reluctance to move because of pain. This distinction is important.
  • Numbness. This can be due to a pinched, pressed or cut nerve.
  • Coolness, color change. If the blood supply is cut off, your arm may feel cool.
  • Swelling. This can be localized or spread throughout your whole arm.
  • Dislocation. This happens when the ball pops out of the socket. Treatment includes popping it back in, then taking care of the shoulder with a sling, rest and ice.
  • Separation. This happens when the ligaments holding the shoulder together tear.†The injury is most often caused by a blow to the shoulder or by falling on an outstretched hand. If the tears are severe, then surgery may be required.
  • Stiffness and loss of range of motion. This is adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder.

Torn rotator cuffs

What are rotator cuffs?

Your rotator cuff is made up of 4 different muscles and their tendons:

  1. supraspinatus muscle
  2. infraspinatus muscle
  3. teres minor muscle
  4. subscapularis muscle

The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder, and keeps your arm in the shoulder. A tear in the rotator cuff can be extremely painful, but often it can also be manageable through rest, pain medicine and physical therapy.

What is torn rotator cuff?

Injuries to your rotator cuff occur when one of the four muscles/tendons are damaged or torn. Tears can be partial, or be a full tear through the tissue.

Injuries to the rotator cuff include general wear and tear, especially repeated activities or movements, or the injury can be acute – caused by a traumatic incident like a car accident.

Insurance companies and their lawyers will usually try to argue your shoulder injuries are mostly degenerative and not caused primarily by the accident. They do this because in general, a torn rotator cuff can be a serious, higher value case.

How are torn rotator cuffs treated?

Treatment of a rotator cuff depends on the severity of the tear. If it’s a smaller tear, you may be prescribed pain medication, physical therapy, and/or steroid injections.

You may require shoulder surgery if:

  1. The symptoms have lasted 6 to 12 months
  2. Your tear is a large one (more than 3 cm)
  3. You suffer significant weakness and loss of function in the shoulder

Different types of surgery include:

  1. Open Repair. This is where a traditional open surgical incision is made. This is required if your tear is large or complex. An incision is made over the shoulder and the surgeon actually detaches the shoulder muscle to see and access the torn tendon.This technique was the first one developed for torn rotator cuffs, but thankfully new technology and improvements have led to less invasive procedures below.
  2. All-Arthroscopic Repair. This is the least invasive method to repair a torn cuff. Your surgeon will insert a small camera (arthroscope) into the joint, and the camera displays video on a display. The surgeon will use these images/video to guide miniature surgical instruments. Since the camera and instruments are real small, the surgeon can use small cuts, instead of the large one required in Open Repair.
  3. Mini-Open Repair. A cross between the all arthroscopic and Open repair, the mini open repair combines steps of the two. A small incision is made, and an arthroscopic camera is used to assess the damage, and to treat damage to other structures in the joint. Bone spurs, for example, are removed arthroscopically, avoiding the need to detach the shoulder/deltoid muscle. Once the arthroscopic portion of the procedure is completed, the surgeon will repair your shoulder through the mini-open incision. The surgeon is viewing the shoulder directly, not looking through a video camera.

Torn labrum after a motor vehicle accident

Shoulder injuries are one of the most common injuries suffered in car accidents, mainly due to the design of the shoulder. A specific type of shoulder injury is a labrum tear. The most severe tear is a SLAP tear, a Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior tear. That’s medical mumbo jumbo that means you tore your labrum from front to back.

What’s a labrum?

A labrum is a piece of cartilage, shaped like a cuff, that help hold your shoulder in place. Your shoulder is very unstable, due to its design. It’s essentially a ball and socket, where the ball is much larger than the socket. Think of a basketball sitting on a soup bowl. The advantage to this design is much greater mobility. The downside is the shoulder is unstable and very prone to injuries.

Why do victims tear their labrum in car accidents?

Labrum tears usually occur when you are holding the steering wheel as the crash happens. What can make things worse, is when you see the accident occurring and in anticipation you brace for impact, stiffening your hold on the steering wheel, locking your elbows. What this makes for, is a very stiff arm that instantly transfers energy to your shoulder.

Symptoms of labrum tears after car crashes include:

  • An aching sensation in the shoulder joint
  • Catching of the shoulder with movement
  • Pain with specific activities

If you are suffering from any injury, please go see a doctor right away. If it is a shoulder injury, you will probably need to see a specialist, who may order diagnostic imaging tests such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

How are torn labrums treated?

If you are lucky, just some medicine and time is enough for shoulders to heel. Unfortunately, in severe cases arthroscopic surgery will need to be performed if the pain doesn’t go away, and your shoulder does not heal.

Do I need an attorney if I suffered a torn labrum or rotator cuff in a car accident?

If you suffered a torn labrum or rotator cuff in a car accident, then I highly recommend speaking with a lawyer. A torn cuff or labrum is a very serious injury. The more serious the injury, the less likely an insurance company is going to offer you a fair or reasonable settlement if you represent yourself. Some tricks they might try:

  1. Deny your claim. They hope you will go away or be discouraged. They will say you injuries are too serious to be caused by such a minor accident, so their driver is not at fault.
  2. Lowball you. They will give you an offer so low, you will almost feel insulted.
  3. Delay. Again, they hope you will go away, or forget about filing a case and the deadline will pass preventing you from filing any lawsuit.
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