Everything You Need to Know About Chest Pain After Car Accidents: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and What to Do When You’re Injured

Everything You Need to Know About Chest Pain After Car Accidents: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and What to Do When You're Injured 1

Some of the most severe auto accident injuries cannot be seen with the naked eye. Where bruises and lacerations immediately reveal themselves, severe injuries such as rib fractures or pulmonary contusions require immediate medical intervention to be discovered. For this reason, off and on chest pain after a car accident should not be ignored.

Although chest pain after a car accident can often be chalked up to bruising from the force of impact, it can also indicate a much more serious injury. Chest pain or pectoral pain from blunt force injury can potentially lead to life-threatening complications when left untreated. Consider the multiple causes, symptoms, and treatment of chest pain, and seek immediate medical attention if necessary.

Is Chest Pain Normal After a Car Accident?

During an accident, the rapid deceleration of a vehicle will propel the body of a driver or passenger into the steering wheel, dashboard, or seatbelt. The force of impact can also deploy airbags, creating what’s known as blunt trauma. Blunt trauma, also known as blunt force trauma or non-penetrating trauma, can cause minor to severe chest injuries.

Immediately after a car accident, it’s common to experience shortness of breath or dull chest pain. The shock of the event alone can knock the wind out of you and the force of impact can bruise the structures of the chest. However, if shortness of breath continues or pain becomes more severe, you should seek medical care immediately.

Causes of Chest Pain After a Motor Vehicle Crash

The majority of car accidents, whether rear-end collisions, T-bone accidents, or head-on crashes, can induce chest or abdominal pain. Several causes of chest pain are not a cause for concern, such as minor bruising. However, sharp pain or chronic pain can signify a more serious injury to the chest wall.

Take a look at the most common chest injuries after a motor vehicle accident.

1. Bruising and Blunt Trauma

Bruises are most commonly associated with the blunt injury caused by the body slamming against structures in the vehicle, like the dashboard. Also referred to as contusions, bruises occur when small veins and blood vessels under the skin break due to the force of impact.

Bruises can range from dull pains to off and on chest pains after a car accident; however, they are generally considered minor soft tissue injuries. If bruises do not improve or worsen as time goes on, there could be a hematoma, a larger accumulation of blood, under the skin. In this case, you should seek medical care to ensure there is no further damage beneath the skin’s surface.

Everything You Need to Know About Chest Pain After Car Accidents: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and What to Do When You're Injured 2

2. Aftermath of Airbag Deployment

If you have been involved in a head-on collision, there’s a good chance that your airbag deployed during the crash. Although airbags have the potential to save an estimated 2,790 lives per year, they can also cause injuries. Airbags deploy in less than 1/20th of a second. If you are too close to the steering wheel or dashboard or come into direct contact with the airbag, it can cause a serious injury.

Common chest injuries caused by airbag deployment include:

  • Abrasions
  • Contusions
  • Lacerations
  • Internal injuries
  • Internal bleeding
  • Inhalation of cornstarch

Shortness of breath may also occur from the inhalation of cornstarch or force of impact.

3. Muscle Strain

A pulled muscle, or a muscle strain, happens when the fibers that make up your chest muscles are overstretched or torn. The force of a motor vehicle accident can cause your body to be suddenly pulled or twisted, causing painful tears. In many cases, pectoral pain after a car accident can be attributed to a strain; however, intense pain should always be examined by a medical professional.

4. Seat Belt Injury

Seat belts are designed to prevent fatal ejection during a car accident, yet the strength of their restraint may cause injuries. Upon detecting an accident, a seat belt will rapidly tighten, causing your body to ricochet back into your seat. This rapid force can injure the chest wall, a collection of skin, fat, muscle, and bone meant to protect vital organs like your heart and lungs.

Seat belt injuries that can cause chest pain after a car accident include:

  • Bruised ribs
  • Rib fracture (broken ribs)
  • Bruised sternum
  • Sternal fracture (broken sternum)

After an accident, rib injuries and sternum pain should not be ignored.

Seatbelts may also cause injuries to other parts of the body like the stomach and internal organs and the force and speed of impact can lead to neck injuries, back injuries, and hip injuries.

5. Internal Organ Injury

Even if you don’t feel chest pain immediately after an accident, pain can develop later, indicating an internal injury. Injuries to the chest wall can cause complications with the heart muscle and severe rib fractures that can puncture an organ. In some rare cases, accident victims initially thought to have no injuries can develop cardiac problems.

Possible internal injuries after a car accident include:

  • Heart injury which may increase the chance of a heart attack
  • Punctured lungs or lung damage (collapsed lung)
  • Pulmonary contusion (bruising of the lungs)
  • Cardiac contusions (bruising of the heart)
  • Kidney damage
  • Spleen injury
  • Liver injury

If you suffered trauma to the upper body, such as rib injuries, you must seek medical care to check for a severe chest injury. Lung pain after a car accident or shortness of breath may indicate an internal injury.

Everything You Need to Know About Chest Pain After Car Accidents: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and What to Do When You're Injured 3

How Do You Know if a Chest Injury is Serious?

The only way to determine if you’ve sustained a severe chest injury is to visit a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis. In some cases, the shock and adrenaline from the accident can mask symptoms of chest injuries, leaving you unaware of the damage until you experience severe pain. Medical intervention is crucial to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, and the function of internal organs.

If you were injured in a crash and are experiencing these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Pain, discomfort, or inability to take a deep breath
  • Pain or discomfort in your chest, even if you’re not moving
  • Pain or discomfort in your chest when slight pressure is applied
  • Pain or discomfort in your chest when you sneeze, cough, or laugh
  • Pain or discomfort in your chest when you make any movements, no matter how small

How is a Chest Injury Treated?

The treatment of a chest injury will vary depending on the type of injury sustained and whether you’ve received an accurate diagnosis. For instance, common bruising can heal on its own with relief from a cold compress, ice pack, or over-the-counter medication. However, if your chest pain symptoms were diagnosed as a bruise when they were really stemming from a pulmonary contusion, treatment must be much more extensive.

In comparison to a minor chest injury, a severe injury such as a pulmonary contusion or punctured lung will likely require time in the hospital. Treatment may require medical procedures, such as a chest tube, oxygen therapy, and constant monitoring.

How Long Does a Chest Injury Take to Heal?

If you’ve been suffering from a chest injury, the answer relies on the source of the injury. Severe injuries will take longer to heal than minor injuries.

A punctured lung or broken bone can take six to eight weeks to heal with medical treatment, while a bruise can resolve on its own within three to four weeks.

Doctor looking at chest x-ray

What Should You Do if You Have Chest Pains after a Car Accident?

If you’re experiencing chest pains after a car accident, you should immediately visit a medical professional. Intense pain can indicate a severe chest injury. If left untreated, a chest injury may result in harmful or life-altering complications. The untreated effects of a motor vehicle accident can incur steep medical expenses, time away from work, and pain and suffering.

By seeking medical care immediately after a motor vehicle accident, you can:

  • Receive an accurate diagnosis
  • Document the initial injury
  • Record the time of injury
  • Receive immediate care

After Medical Attention, Seek Legal Representation

The state of Kentucky is a “choice no-fault” state, which means that drivers are required to carry PIP coverage on their auto policy by default and primarily file accident claims through their own insurance.

Once you’ve received medical care, it’s imperative you contact a personal injury firm knowledgeable in motor vehicle crash injuries. An experienced attorney will help protect your rights and ensure you receive compensation for your damages.

Current PIP coverages may not cover the entirety of medical expenses involved with the diagnosis or complications of chest injuries. Moreover, your PIP coverage cannot compensate you fully for time lost at work or with loved ones. A personal injury lawyer experienced in car accident cases can help you gather all necessary evidence to build your injury case.

Together, you can collect evidence, gather medical bills for validation purposes, and itemize your damages. A car accident lawyer can compile the best case against the individual at fault for your injuries to help you secure a sufficient settlement.

Learn How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help After an Auto Accident

If you’ve experienced chest pain after a car accident and have suffered severe injuries, you may be able to recoup damages incurred from your car crash. Once you’ve received medical attention, don’t wait to reach out to a trusted personal injury attorney. Contact the attorneys at David Bryant Law for a complimentary case evaluation today.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.