When motor vehicle collisions result in whiplash, contusions, sprains and other soft tissue injuries, your physical, emotional and financial recovery are paramount
Maybe you were in a car accident yesterday. The other vehicle struck you in the rear. And you’re upset that your new car has been damaged. When the police come to write their report, they ask you if you are injured. You don’t seem to have any broken bones and you aren’t bleeding, so you tell the police officer that you are unharmed but you want your car repaired.
Then, this morning, you woke up achy and sore all over. You have a headache. You feel like you have been exercising even though you haven’t. Unfortunately, you told the police officer that you weren’t injured.
What do you do?
Soft tissue injuries are one of the most common car accident injuries. Often, because there is no visible sign of injury and pain is subjective, insurance companies wrongly think of soft tissue injuries as “minor.” With soft tissue injuries, the pain may not initially feel severe, but it gets worse the day following the wreck.
The reality is that soft tissue injuries can be very serious. If you do not seek treatment soon after a crash, the consequences can be severe or even permanent.
What is a soft tissue injury?
Soft tissue injuries refer to damage to parts of the body that are not bones, such as the tendons, ligaments and muscles throughout the body. A person may or may not have visible bruising as a result of a soft tissue injury.
The most common soft tissue injuries involve a sprain, strain, trauma (such as a blow to the head causing a contusion) or overuse of a specific part of the body. Soft tissue injuries can cause considerable pain and swelling. Due to the pain and swelling, a person’s range of motion can be negatively impacted.
Types of soft tissue injuries
There are various types of soft tissue injuries, including contusions, sprains, strains, tendonitis, bursitis and stress injuries. Soft tissue injuries can be broken down into 2 categories.
- Acute injuries are a result of an acute trauma, such as sprains, strains and contusions.
- Overuse injuries happen gradually over time and are caused by repetitive use of a specific area of the body. The body may not have time to heal, causing inflammation in the specific area. Examples of overuse injuries are tendonitis, bursitis and stress injuries.
A sprain is a tear and or stretch of a ligament primarily caused by a twisting force. This causes pain, edema, inflammation and sometimes bruising.
There are 3 grades to sprains:
- Grade 1 or mild sprains — stretching and mild damage to the ligaments.
- Grade 2 or moderate sprains — partial tear of the ligament, causing abnormal laxity.
- Grade 3 or severe sprains — a complete tear in a ligament, causing instability to the joint.
A strain is an injury to a muscle and or tendon that is caused by stretching, force or overuse. This causes pain, muscle weakness, edema, muscle spasms, cramping and inflammation. These injuries usually occur to the foot, leg or hamstring. Strains have a similar grading system as sprains.
Contusions are the medical name for a bruise. Bruises are caused by a blow. This happens when small blood vessels get torn and leak blood under the skin. The skin is not broken. The bruise appearance is caused by the pooling of the blood around the injury. These are common if your body is thrown into something during the accident.
Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back and forth movement of the neck. This motion can injure bones in the spine, disks between the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and other tissues of the neck. Whiplash is commonly caused by rear-end accidents. Most people have improvement after proper treatment, including medication and physical therapy. However, some have chronic neck pain and other long-lasting complications.
Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS)
MPS is the medical term for chronic pain and inflammation of soft tissue. This condition affects the fascia (connective tissue that covers the muscles). This syndrome can cause chronic pain in muscles throughout the body.
The symptoms of MPS usually involve muscle pain with specific “trigger” or “tender” points. The pain is usually made worse with activity or stress. People with this disorder can also suffer from depression, fatigue and behavioral disturbances. MPS treatment usually involves medication, physical therapy, massage therapy and sometimes trigger point injections.
Common symptoms of soft tissue injuries
The usual signs of soft tissue injuries are stiffness, limited mobility, tenderness and pain. Soft tissue injuries can also be frustrating because of your limited mobility. Many of the most common symptoms of soft tissue injuries like whiplash usually develop within days of the injury and may include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Worsening of pain with neck movement
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back or arms
- Headaches, usually starting at the base of the neck
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
In addition, sometimes there are more serious symptoms, such as:
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
Soft tissue injuries may have an immediate effect on your life. Your ability to perform daily and vital activities may be limited, such as grooming, housekeeping and cleaning, and exercising. You may be unable to carry out your required job duties.
Following a soft tissue injury, it is important that you get plenty of rest. Normal activities that you do without thinking, such as stooping, squatting, walking long distances, reaching and bending, may be difficult. Your sleep will likely be disturbed, due to the pain.
Chronic and frequent headaches are another common occurrence with soft tissue injuries. You may not be able to make important decisions in the beginning, especially if you are taking pain medication.
If you have young children, your ability to care for them may be limited due to your injuries. Sitting for long periods of time may be painful, so travel plans may need to be put on hold. These limitations can cause you further aggravation and emotional distress.
Diagnosing and treating soft tissue injuries
Many times, soft tissue injuries are difficult to diagnose. A soft tissue injury will not show up on an X-ray because it doesn’t involve damage to the bones. Therefore, the diagnostic tests that may be used are clinical assessment, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance arthrography.
Treatment for soft tissue injuries usually consists of 3 stages:
- Stage 1. During the first 24-72 hours, it is important to protect the injured area, gain an accurate diagnosis and follow the “PRICE” regime. Gentle pain free movement is encouraged.
The P-R-I-C-E Methodology
Protect. Avoid activities and movement that increase pain.
Rest. Your body needs rest to promote healing.
Ice. Apply ice for 5 minutes maximum at a time for the first 3 days, every 2 hours, 3-4 times a day.
Compression. Use a compression bandage or taping to reduce swelling, if possible.
Elevation. Elevate the injured limb higher than the heart as often as possible.
- Stage 2. Reduce swelling and stiffness and begin to regain normal movement.
- Stage 3. Regain normal function and return to normal activities.
What to do if you suffered a soft tissue injury in a car accident?
- Seek help from a medical professional who will likely prescribe pain medication and possible muscle relaxers.
- The medical professional may refer you for diagnostic testing to determine the extent of your injuries.
- Follow the doctor’s instructions.
- The doctor may refer you for physical therapy.
- Depending on the diagnostic test results, you may be referred to a specialist.
What’s the average treatment time for recovery?
The duration of treatment and length of recovery time depends on the severity of the soft tissue injury.
- Grade 1 soft tissue injury: 1-2 weeks
- Grade 2 soft tissue injury: 3-4 weeks
- Grade 3 soft tissue injury: Requires immediate assessment and treatment; has a much longer recovery time.
Long-term physical and financial effects of soft tissue injuries
One of the long-term physical effects of soft tissue injuries can be scar tissue forming in the injured area, causing arthritis. Scar tissue can irritate or disrupt the nerves. Other long-term medical effects include continued muscle spasms, narrowing of the space between the disc and the spine and a curvature of the spine. In some extreme cases, surgery may be required. Sadly, because of the continued pain, some people become prescription drug dependent.
When soft tissue damage becomes catastrophic or permanent, a person may need to change how they live their day-to-day life. Depending on your career, there’s a possibility of losing your job and having to be retrained in another field.
Because of the seriousness of soft tissue injuries and the complications that can develop, it is important that you seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Keep your physician advised about your pain levels and any changes that may occur so that this information can be properly documented.
You should also hire a reputable Atlanta car accident attorney, who has your best interests in mind to help you along the process of recovery—physically, emotionally and financially. Scholle Law has over 20 years of experience protecting our client’s interest in these types of cases, and we have recovered millions of dollars for our clients in personal injury verdicts and settlements.
For example, we were able to secure a $100,000 policy limits settlement in a motorcycle accident case. Our client suffered a non-surgical soft tissue injury when an automobile driver, who did not see her, pulled into the path of her Kawasaki motorcycle.
In another auto accident case, we secured $441,000 for our client—a Gwinnett woman and her toddler son who were injured in a head-on collision. The woman suffered a fractured knee, as well as back and neck injuries. The toddler suffered contusions and emotional distress.
These are just a couple of examples of cases where we’ve been able to help change the life of auto accident victims suffering from soft-tissue injuries.
We would be happy to discuss your case with you.