A chest injury can result from almost any accident. You might strain a muscle when you are thrown against your seat belt in a car accident. In a workplace accident, a tool could pierce your ribcage and tear your chest muscles. A pedestrian accident could leave you with broken ribs.
Your prognosis and recovery time will depend on the severity of your chest injury. Some chest injuries heal in four to six weeks. Others can leave you in the hospital for days or weeks as you fight for your life.
Below, learn more about the causes and effects of a chest injury and the compensation you can seek for one.
What is the Structure of Your Chest?
Your chest sits between your neck and your abdomen. Biologists refer to this section of your body as your thorax. The thoracic cavity includes the inside of your chest, which contains your lungs, heart, trachea, esophagus, and major blood vessels.
Broadly, you can refer to injuries to the musculoskeletal portion of your thorax as chest injuries. Injuries to the organs of the thoracic cavity are usually called thoracic injuries.
The most prominent feature of your chest is your ribcage. The ribcage includes 24 ribs arranged in 12 pairs. Doctors refer to the top seven ribs as true ribs because they attach to both your spine and sternum.
The next three ribs — the false ribs — connect to your spine and the true ribs. The final two ribs — the floating ribs — only connect to your spine.
In your back, ligaments hold your ribs to your spine. These ligaments provide a tough but flexible connection between your spine and ribs. This holds the ribs in place as you move but allows your ribs to flex and twist as you bend or turn your body.
In the front of your chest, cartilage connects the true ribs to the sternum. Cartilage also holds the false ribs to the true ribs. Cartilage provides a tough but flexible connection.
Intercostal muscles sit between the ribs. These muscles work with the diaphragm to expand the thoracic cavity every time you inhale. The lungs have space to inflate with air by expanding the thoracic cavity.
The chest also has large muscle groups over the front, back, and sides of your chest. These muscles connect to the spine, ribs, shoulder blades, collar bones, and skull. They help you hold up your body, lift objects, and bend over.
What Causes a Chest Injury?
Chest injuries usually happen in one of three ways:
Blunt Force Impact
A blunt force impact happens when an object strikes your chest without piercing the skin. When your chest hits the seat belt during a car accident, you suffer a blunt force impact.
Blunt force impacts can fracture ribs and tear cartilage. They can also stretch muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Penetrating impacts occur when an object pierces the skin of your chest. These injuries can pose a risk to your life because of the vital organs in the chest cavity.
The penetrating object can tear muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It can pierce cartilage and even fracture ribs. If the penetrating object enters the thoracic cavity, it can cause a pneumothorax, damage the lungs, or pierce the heart.
Hyperextension happens when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments get stretched beyond their normal capacity. This stretching can damage the fibers in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When stretched far enough, they can tear.
What Types of Chest Injuries Can Happen?
Chest injuries can cause considerable pain. Your chest expands and contracts with each breath. A chest injury can get aggravated every time you inhale or exhale.
Chest Strain or Sprain
Strains happen when you stretch or tear the muscles in your chest.
Symptoms of chest strain can include:
- Muscle spasms
Sprains happen when the ligaments connecting your ribs to your spine get stretched or torn.
Symptoms of a sprain include:
- Joint instability
- Popping sound or sensation in the back of your chest during the accident
Doctors rarely operate on a strained or sprained chest. Instead, sprains and strains usually heal with rest and ice in four to six weeks.
Although cartilage provides a strong, tough connection between the ribs and sternum, it can tear under the extreme forces you experience in an accident. Torn cartilage will heal. In the meantime, the loose rib will irritate nearby tissue, causing pain and inflammation.
A rib dislocates when it moves out of place. This can result from torn cartilage at the front of the chest, torn ligaments in the back of the chest, or both.
As the rib moves out of its normal position, it can compress nerves. The compression causes the nerves to become inflamed and painful. Worse yet, since the rib has moved out of place, it could compress nerves every time you breathe.
A fractured rib happens when a force overcomes the structural strength of the rib. In most cases, the rib cracks, but the pieces do not displace. As long as the fractured ends of the rib remain aligned, it should heal in six to eight weeks with rest.
Occasionally, ribs will break into three or more pieces. When a rib shatters like this, it can produce a condition called flail chest. With flail chest, the shattered pieces of rib bulge out of the ribcage as the rest of your chest contracts. Flail chest is one of the most serious chest injuries you can experience, with a high risk of death without treatment.
How Do You Get Compensation for a Chest Injury?
You need to prove that your chest injury resulted from someone else’s negligence to get compensation. This means you need to show that the person or business failed to exercise reasonable care, and as a result — they injured you.
If you can prove liability for your chest injury, you can recover economic damages for losses such as medical expenses and lost income. You can also recover non-economic damages for personal losses, including pain, suffering, and inconvenience.
Chest injuries can cause you severe discomfort. They can even cause pain with every breath. Fortunately, many chest injuries heal over a few months. But serious injuries can affect you for the rest of your life. Contact Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation to learn about the compensation you can recover for your chest injury.