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Common Orthopedic Injuries From Car Accidents

In 2019, approximately 1.92 million car accidents on U.S. roadways resulted in injuries for 2.74 million people. You don’t need to have a serious crash to sustain debilitating injuries that disrupt your life and cause severe pain.

If you don’t receive the care you need, you may also suffer long-term effects that lead to complications and chronic conditions and pain. Orthopedic injuries are among the most common outcomes when people sustain physical harm in a car collision.

What Are Orthopedic Injuries?

What Are Orthopedic InjuriesOrthopedics is a medical area that focuses on the musculoskeletal system. This system includes your bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, or surrounding soft tissue. Car accidents often result in damage to this structure. At Neuro Injury Care, our orthopedists frequently diagnose musculoskeletal injuries that result from a crash.

What Injuries Are Most Common?

Auto collisions can result in damage to any part of the body. The musculoskeletal system extends from head to foot, and any part may sustain injury. Not all of these injuries are immediately apparent. Some can take days or weeks before symptoms arise.

It’s essential to seek medical care after a car accident to ensure you catch an orthopedic injury before they become more serious. Orthopedic doctors can diagnose soft tissue and skeletal structure damage even when you don’t realize you sustained an injury. Here are the types we most frequently see.


WhiplashAn estimated 3 million Americans suffer a whiplash injury every year, most often from motor vehicle accidents. This injury is likely significantly underreported, as people may not realize until after the crash that they have this type of neck injury. Whiplash occurs when the neck moves forcefully and quickly in one direction and then in the opposite direction, overextending the soft tissues in the cervical column.

Whiplash can cause severe damage, resulting in long-term issues, especially without immediate and appropriate treatment. Not everyone has the same symptoms. Potential signs of the condition include:

  • Neck pain (from mild to severe)
  • Tingling in the neck
  • Pain radiating to the shoulders and arms
  • Headache, especially at the base of the skull
  • Upper back and shoulder pain
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Numbness or weakness of the neck muscles

If you’ve been in a car accident and experienced any of these symptoms, an orthopedist doctor can accurately diagnose the condition and develop a treatment plan to help you recover fully. This may involve orthopedic physical therapy and other modalities.

Spinal Column Damage

Spinal column damage includes any injury to the vertebrae, connective tissues, discs or nerves in the upper or lower back. Examples of these injuries include:

  • Herniated disc: The spinal column discs provide a cushion between each vertebra. A car accident can cause physical stress on the spine, resulting in a disc slipping out of place. This injury most often occurs in the lumbar — or lower back — region.
  • Pinched nerves: Swelling along the spinal column or herniated discs can put pressure on the nerves, leading to pain and numbness. Sciatica is a common form of a pinched nerve and one of the orthopedic injuries that results from a car accident. A pinched sciatic nerve causes pain in the lower back, extending through the hip region and into the legs.
  • Vertebra fracture: Cracks or hairline fractures in one or more vertebra are often the result of forceful spinal column compression. These injuries frequently also impact the surrounding nerves and may result in serious spinal column damage.
  • Soft tissue damage: Car accidents frequently lead to sprains and strains along the spinal column. Sprains refer to torn or stretched ligaments, and the tissue that connects bone to bone. A strain is a torn or stretched tendon, the tissue that connects muscle to bone.

Orthopedic doctors can accurately diagnose your spinal column injury so that you can get the kind of help you need to recover and get back to your normal activities. The symptoms of spinal column damage can vary significantly, but usually, people experience pain along and adjacent to the spinal cord. Though the pain can be excruciating, it isn’t always, so it’s essential to get an appropriate diagnosis to prevent complications.

Bone Fractures

Bone FracturesBone fractures occur when a bone breaks, cracks or splinters. If you have a broken bone, the type of injury is usually apparent. However, hairline fractures and cracks may be less so.

Stress fractures like a wrist fracture or distal radius fracture can occur due to the violent impact of a car accident.

Fractures may break the bone cleanly into two pieces or shatter it into multiple fragments. Additionally, compound fractures occur when the bone breaks through the skin. Symptoms of a bone fracture include:

  • Intense pain
  • Swelling
  • Lack of functioning or mobilization
  • A change in the shape of the affected region

Some bone fractures can be challenging to see, even with X-rays, requiring more extensive testing to diagnose. An orthopedist doctor from Neuro Injury Care may need to conduct a bone scan, computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imagery to determine where the break is.

Motor vehicle accidents frequently lead to broken bones in the extremities, including the hands, wrists, arms, feet, ankles and legs. Broken hands and wrists are common for drivers due to the extreme pressure on the hands from gripping and bracing against the steering wheel. While these injuries are often very painful, you may not immediately notice them. If you don’t move the injured part or shock takes over, you may not feel any pain right after the accident occurs.

Joint Dislocation

Joint DislocationDislocation is another of the more common orthopedic injuries that you may sustain after an auto accident. Rather than breaking a bone, the force of impact can instead cause the bone to pop out of its joint. Shoulder dislocation and elbow dislocation are the most common car accident dislocations, but people may also experience this injury in the fingers, jaw, knees, hips, wrist, and ankle.

While complete dislocations are usually quite apparent, if you have a partial dislocation, you may not immediately realize the nature of your injury.  Whether full or partial, these injuries are usually painful and cause swelling at the joint, bruising, instability and inability to move.

Dislocations may result in torn or stretched tendons, damage to the surrounding muscles and nerve damage. An orthopedic doctor comes up with a treatment plan that addresses the extent and severity of damage from a dislocation.

Soft Tissue Damage

When you have a car accident, soft tissue damage can occur anywhere on the body. It may show up in the form of contusions (bruises). Contusions range from mild to severe.

Collisions may result in hematomas, a more severe bruise type that leads to pooled blood outside the vessels and potential tissue damage. Soft tissue damage also includes muscle injuries, sprains, strains and nerve injuries.

Muscle Injuries

Torn or stretched muscles frequently occur in the lower or middle back, but we also see numerous patients with muscle damage in their legs, hips or arms. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may have pain, bruising, swelling, weakness, stiffness and spasms at the site of the damage. If any of these symptoms accompany sore muscles, you may want to visit an orthopedist doctor to obtain a diagnosis.

Left untreated, torn muscles can lead to complications like a rotator cuff tear – a debilitating shoulder injury. If you continue to use a muscle with a tear, it can worsen the tear, resulting in increased scarring and reduced muscle use in the impacted area. An untreated torn muscle may also cause deep vein thrombosis and acute compartment syndrome from the bleeding that occurs with the injury. Other impacts such as muscle herniation, fibrous scarring, and infection are also possible.

Sprains and Strains

Connective tissue injuries following a car accident don’t only occur along the spinal column. The force of an airbag may lead to orthopedic injuries in the tendons in the shoulder. With this type of injury, the tendons become inflamed, causing significant pain in the joint and limiting range of motion.

The knee is another location that frequently sustains soft tissue damage from a crash. If the collision forces your knee to bend oddly, it can cause a strain to the anterior cruciate ligament or the medial collateral ligament. Sometimes, the ligaments stretch to the point of tearing. Both types of ligament tears are often extremely painful and don’t usually heal well without treatment. After diagnosis, orthopedic doctors devise a treatment plan that improves your chances of full recovery. However, sometimes surgery is necessary.

Nerve Damage

Nerve DamageYour nervous system runs throughout your entire body, relaying messages between the brain and other systems. When you suffer an injury to any body part, there is the potential to damage the nerves as well. Frequently, nerve damage is a secondary injury. It occurs when swelling tissues or fluid buildup compress the nerve. However, nerve damage can also be the primary injury. The most severe form of damage is neurotmesis. This injury occurs when the crash causes a severed nerve.

Where Can You Find Orthopedic Specialists To Treat Your Car Accident Injuries

Orthopedic injuries can be debilitating and, when left untreated, lead to complications and chronic conditions. If you had a car crash that led to injuries, Neuro Injury Care is here to help. Our medical professionals diagnose your injuries and determine a treatment plan tailored to your conditions and life.

We utilize a holistic approach designed for healing and preventing future injuries. Contact us today to schedule an evaluation or learn more about our services.


About The Author

Picture of Ashwin Malhotra, M.D.

Ashwin Malhotra, M.D.

Ashwin Malhotra, M.D. is a highly respected neurologist based in New York City. With over 20 years of experience in the field of neurology, he has earned a reputation as a leading expert in the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries. In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Malhotra is also a dedicated educator and researcher. He has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed medical journals and has presented his research at national and international conferences.