This is the fourth segment of our Common Car Accident Injuries series that discusses potential injuries that occur in vehicle accidents. Over one-million individuals are admitted to hospitals annually for severe injuries incurred in traffic accidents. In 2012, vehicle accidents resulted in $18 billion in overall lifetime costs of medical care. Among the many injuries, a broken bone, also known as a fracture, is one of the most common. Broken bones can greatly hinder mobility, overall range of motion, and be associated with paralysis. Here, we will look at the common bone injuries which occur in auto accidents and the potential long-term consequences.
Common Bone Injuries in Auto Accidents
- Extremities: Leg fractures often occur when the car's exterior is collapsed. Some of these include the thigh bone (femur), the shin bone (tibia), and the fibula bone located below the knee. In the upper region, the wrist has several weaker bones that may be susceptible as well as the radius and ulna which compose the forearm.
- Ribs/Clavicle: The bones composing the rib cage can be broken or cracked; it is possible for a rough edge of a broken bone to cut into blood vessels or a lung. The clavicle (collarbone) can be broken in a crash and could need surgical realignment.
- Spine/Back/Pelvis: The pelvic bones near the bottom of the spine are more commonly damaged in motorcycle crashes compared to car accidents. Spine injuries can vary from mild to very severe. One common auto accident injury is a Flexion (chance) fracture where spinal vertebrae are separated. Discogenic pain stems from damage to discs that cushion the space between spinal bones.
- Facial/Skull: Severe facial Injuries may occur to those not wearing a seatbelt who hit the windshield. Bones damaged may include those within the nose, cheeks and jaw. A break in a cranial bone (skull) can lead to a brain injury, with neurosurgery necessary in severe cases.
Diagnostic Tools for Broken Bones
Most doctors diagnose a broken bone with a physical exam and X-rays. Often, an X-ray does not show a fracture clearly, such as in many involving the wrist or hips. More advanced imaging technology includes computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs, which use magnets and radio waves to create images, and CT images, provide greater detail to better identify damages to the soft tissues or blood vessels.
- Splints: When a bone is broken and the area is very swollen, a splint is placed; a splint is made up of a hard material with an inner layer of cotton. This can stabilize the area temporarily until a cast is applied after the swelling has subsided.
- Casts: Are made of a hard outside layer, such as plaster or fiberglass, and a soft interior. Broken bones require proper positioning to heal correctly.
- Surgery: In most extreme cases a surgical procedure may be necessary. Severe fractures generally require a surgeon to access the bone and it may be fastened together with plates, screws etc.
- Physical therapy: This treatment seeks to achieve better range of motion and strength in the damaged area. Your therapist may assess the environment within your home to allow you to move more safely. Therapists will recommend exercises and have a host of different options that can be used in a customized treatment plan for your specific injury.
Certain bone injuries have more long-lasting effects and full recovery may be less likely for older adults or those with reduced bone strength, particularly with hip fractures. Often older people with hip fractures are at a greater risk for more falls. Severe fractures may need one to two years to fully heal and many may result in ongoing flashes of pain. Injuries to the arm or wrist may cause a permanent reduction in the ability to strongly grip. The arch of the foot is sometimes not restored in a way that aligns with the ankle and Achilles tendon--causing a limp. Fractures in the collarbone can lead to a long-term risk for arthritis in the joints that extend to the shoulder blades. Other long-term problems are caused by immobilization that can cause blood clots, skin ulcers (bed sores), and a failure to regain muscle strength.
Aside from older adults at risk of long-term complications, younger children are at risk if the bone injury affected a growth plate.
Bone fractures, as you can see, can be more traumatic than what one may initially suspect. A broken bone isn't always just a broken bone. Some bone injuries require a longterm care plan. In some cases, if the accident was not your fault and you seek compensation, an insurance carrier may try to manipulate a situation and not compensate according to the true nature of your injury. An attorney can help you make sure you get the compensation you deserve.
In our final part of this series, we discuss the psychological impact of these kinds of mild to serious injuries.