What Causes Shoulder Pain After Car Accidents and What Should You Do Next?

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Car wrecks place a significant amount of stress on the body that can fracture or disconnect the bones of the shoulder, damage the shoulder joint, or even tear sensitive structures within the shoulder. Do not hesitate to seek medical attention if you’re experiencing shoulder pain after a car accident.

Common shoulder injuries, like a torn rotator cuff or shoulder dislocation, may cause pain symptoms up to 12 months after the accident.

The only method to safely stop shoulder pain after a car accident is to visit a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and medical treatment plan. Treatment for a shoulder injury may last six to 12 weeks and could involve surgery, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. Treatment may incur steep medical bills over time, which is why legal help can be so beneficial.

A personal injury attorney can work with car accident victims to secure fair compensation for severe accident injuries. If you or someone you love is experiencing shoulder pain after a car accident, discover what may have caused your discomfort, how to treat your pain, and how a trusted medical and legal team can help in the aftermath of a car accident.

Symptoms of Shoulder Injuries and Pain in Shoulder After Car Crash

The shoulder is a delicate ball-and-socket joint that is highly susceptible to damage, especially during a vehicle collision. While some discomfort is to be expected after a crash, severe shoulder pain may be a sign of serious injury.

The primary symptom of a shoulder injury from a car accident is pain in the shoulder, upper back, and arm. Instability in the shoulder joint, a limited range of motion, or pain from the shoulder blade are also common. Pain may begin as soon as the accident occurs or in the days following the crash.

Discomfort that starts 24 to 48 hours after an accident is referred to as delayed pain. Delayed pain after accidents often makes it difficult to predict how severe shoulder injuries are—until it’s too late. Without immediate treatment, an injury can worsen over time or even result in permanent damage.

Symptoms of a possible shoulder injury from a car accident include:

  • Stiffness and swelling
  • Limited range of motion
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Weakness or inability to move
  • Instability in the joint
  • Cracking or popping sound when moving
  • Numbness or tingling around the shoulder
  • Muscle cramps or spasms in the arms or shoulders
  • Bump or bulge on the shoulder or near the collarbone
  • Upper back and neck pain

Don’t wait until your pain is unbearable. If you are experiencing symptoms of a shoulder injury after a car accident, visit a doctor immediately.

Causes of Car Accident Shoulder Pain

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Shoulder pain is caused by damage to delicate structures in the arm, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, cartilage, and bones. The impact of an accident can stretch and tear soft tissues and dislocate and shatter bones. The most common shoulder injuries from car wrecks include torn rotator cuffs and dislocated joints.

Take a look at other common types of shoulder injuries that may cause pain after an accident.


Whiplash is an injury caused by rapid movement in the neck and skull. The force of impact of a car crash—especially a rear-end collision—propels the top half of the body forward and immediately snaps it backward, stretching and tearing soft tissues like muscles.

Many of the soft tissues in the neck connect to structures in the shoulder, so it’s very common for shoulder pain to be a symptom of whiplash. Other symptoms of whiplash include headaches, neck pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms.

In cases of severe whiplash, the resulting inflammation may limit the amount of space in the shoulder joint. The shoulder bone may rub against soft tissue like ligaments, creating a painful condition known as shoulder impingement. This type of injury requires prompt medical care.

Soft Tissue Damage

Soft tissue damage occurs when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the shoulder experience trauma, such as blunt force. During a car accident, soft tissue can slam against hard surfaces like the steering wheel or side window, causing blood vessels to burst.

Burst blood vessels are often visible as contusions or deep bruises around the shoulder and near the collarbone. Other types of soft tissue damage are not visible to the naked eye and will require diagnostic imaging to locate and treat.

Additional soft tissue injuries like a strain, which is a tearing of muscles and tendons, or a sprain, which is the tearing of ligaments, require medical testing. Symptoms of various soft tissue injuries include swelling, discoloration, weakness, and limited range of motion.

Torn Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles that form tendons to keep the shoulder joint in place within the socket. When an accident victim is struck at high speeds or prepares for impact by tightly gripping the steering wheel, the soft tissue in the rotator cuff can tear.

A rotator cuff tear can be classified as a partial tear or full-thickness tear:

  • A partial tear occurs when the tendons are still connected to the shoulder bone.
  • A full-thickness tear occurs when the tendon completely disconnects from the bone.

Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include difficulty lifting the affected arm, pain and weakness in the entire shoulder, and muscle spasms. Pain often persists even while the injured shoulder is at rest.

SLAP Tear (Torn Labrum)

A SLAP tear is short for a superior labrum from anterior to posterior (SLAP) tear, or a tear in the cartilage found with the shoulder joint. Joints are what allow your shoulders to remain mobile. When the cartilage within the joint snaps, you will likely experience instability in the arm.

Unlike rotator cuff tears, torn labrum symptoms are often felt at the front of the shoulder rather than over the entire shoulder. Other SLAP tear symptoms typically mimic the symptoms of a torn rotator cuff, such as pain and weakness. For this reason, you should visit a specialist for a proper diagnosis.

Shoulder Dislocation and Separation

The shoulder joint is made up of three bones:

  1. Humerus or upper arm bone
  2. Scapula or shoulder blade
  3. Collarbone or clavicle

These bones are kept in place within the socket by the rotator cuff. When an accident victim slams against the steering wheel or dashboard during a crash, the shoulder blade can shift or completely move from its normal position in the joint socket.

A shift in the socket is known as a dislocated shoulder and a total ejection from the socket is called a shoulder separation. Symptoms of both injuries include instability at the joint, limited range motion, and popping or clicking sounds when moving the arm.

Bone Fractures

A bone fracture occurs when one of the three bones in the shoulder joint partially or entirely breaks. A small crack in the bone is known as a hairline fracture. A total break in the bone is known as a complete fracture.

Either type of shoulder fracture is typically evident the moment an accident occurs. Symptoms of a shoulder fracture include shooting or radiating pain, weakness, inability to move the shoulder, and swelling or discoloration at the injury site.

How Shoulder Pain is Diagnosed and Treated

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The shoulder is a complex and fragile structure, so injury diagnosis should always occur at your local doctor’s office or hospital. Your physician can complete physical exams to judge your range of motion and strength. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist for medical imaging, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, to better locate the injury.

Once a doctor has an accurate view of what’s happening underneath the surface of your skin, they can issue a formal diagnosis and begin a treatment plan. Treatment for a shoulder injury from a car accident typically includes:

  • Rest
  • Ice and heat therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy

In severe cases, a serious shoulder injury may require surgery to realign the shoulder joint or reconnect torn soft tissue. With proper treatment, most car accident victims can fully recover from a shoulder injury.

Can I Sue for Shoulder Pain?

Yes, you can sue for shoulder pain after a car accident. The physical and mental discomfort endured from a car accident injury is referred to as pain and suffering, which can be included in a lawsuit. Pain and suffering is  a type of damage, or compensation awarded in an injury claim.

Damages you can seek for common shoulder injuries include:

  • Medical expenses, both past and future
  • Costs for prescription medication
  • Out-of-pocket expenses, such as over the counter pain medication
  • Travel fees to and from doctor’s appointments
  • Lost wages, including vacation and sick days
  • Property damage such as vehicle repair costs
  • Home care costs

The value of a shoulder car accident injury will vary depending on the severity of the damage. A shoulder injury that required surgery and six months of recovery will likely be valued higher than a muscle injury that healed on its own within six weeks. Several other factors—like the behavior of the driver who caused the accident—can also impact compensation.

It’s difficult to put a price on your shoulder pain after a car accident using just your discomfort as your basis. A car accident attorney will help you quantify the costs of your damages, from medical bills to property damage, to help you seek adequate compensation.

Filing a Claim for Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident

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Filing an injury claim for shoulder pain after a car accident is no easy task. Due to fault laws in Kentucky, a personal injury claim typically goes through a car accident victim’s own insurance policy before it can be escalated to a lawsuit.

Kentucky law implements certain thresholds to bring a lawsuit against an at-fault driver, which include:

  • More than $1,000 in medical expenses resulting from the accident
  • Compound, compressed, or displaced fracture of any bone
  • Fracture of a weight-bearing bone
  • Any permanent loss of a bodily function
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Any permanent injury

If a car accident victim’s case meets the threshold—which is often the case for those with a shoulder injury—a lawyer will file a lawsuit complaint. A complaint details how the at-fault driver’s actions injured the victim and demands compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This compensation amount is calculated by the attorney, who totals all possible damages.

Unlike most members of the general public, car accident attorneys are extremely well-versed in dealing with insurance companies that are notorious for offering accident victims far less compensation than they deserve. Attorneys collect all available evidence to prove to insurance adjusters, judges, and juries that a victim is deserving of fair compensation for their pain and suffering.

Contact David Bryant Law for Help with Car Accident Shoulder Pain

If you need a trusted attorney to help you file an injury claim for shoulder pain after a car accident, look no further than David Bryant Law. Our legal team has an extensive track record of serving the best interests of car accident victims and fighting for proper compensation for life-changing injuries.

You do not deserve to suffer in silence. Do not hesitate to seek legal guidance after suffering a shoulder injury in a car accident that was partially or no fault of your own. Contact David Bryant Law today for a free case evaluation and take the first step to reclaim your livelihood after a crash.

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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.