If you have been injured in a car accident, you likely understand just how much your entire body can experience pain and discomfort from such a significant force of impact. While seatbelts and airbags are designed to help your body withstand a number of serious and even fatal injuries, a car accident can still cause significant harm to the body. When the body is jolted and jostled suddenly, injuries such as whiplash, fractures, and dislocations can occur. A common injury from a car accident can be a shoulder dislocation, especially the driver’s left shoulder as the body is forcefully restrained by the seatbelt and depending on the car’s point of impact.
Causes of Shoulder Dislocation
A shoulder dislocation occurs when the bone is pushed out of its position within the joint, often resulting in significant and sudden pain. Most shoulder dislocations occur after a sudden impact. In a car accident, a sudden and forceful impact with the seat, seatbelt, steering wheel, or other objects in the car can all lead to a dislocated shoulder. The jostling and abrupt back-and-forth movement common to car accidents upon impact and a sudden stop can all lead to a dislocation.
Symptoms of Shoulder Dislocation
Common symptoms of shoulder dislocation include a sudden onset of extreme and continuous pain, bruising and swelling of the affected area, and difficulty moving the arm. You may also experience weakness or even numbness in the arm, hand, fingers, and even neck. There are three main types of dislocated shoulders: anterior, posterior, and partial. In the event of a car accident, an anterior dislocation is more common when the arm is forcefully rotated outward or away from the body due to a strong impact to the shoulder.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you receive medical treatment at the scene of a car accident, you may find yourself at the emergency room and the shoulder dislocation is diagnosed and treated there. The emergency room doctor will likely request an X-ray of the area before providing you with pain medication and then reducing the dislocation. Afterward, your shoulder may be placed in a brace or sling to limit range of motion while your body heals from the trauma.
If you do not go to the emergency room after an accident, it is strongly advised that you seek out medical treatment right away for a suspected shoulder dislocation. Orthopedic doctors are knowledgeable and well-versed in treating this type of injury. An orthopedic doctor will also utilize an X-ray of the area and potential other diagnostic imaging tools such as an MRI to get a more 3D look at the affected area.
Rehabilitation after a Shoulder Dislocation
After the procedure to put the joint back in place, the shoulder is generally immobilized with a sling or brace to allow for the ball-and-socket joint and its surrounding muscles and tissues to heal. It can take a while for swelling to go down around the area and for the joint to properly heal in its natural, proper position. Once the joint and surrounding tissues have healed after the initial treatment, you will likely want to meet with a physical therapist to begin exploring range of motion.
Physical therapists can help identify practices and exercises specific to your body and your injury to help strengthen the surrounding areas and encourage healthy range of motion. After immobilizing the area, you will likely experience stiffness and discomfort, and physical therapists can provide you with an individualized treatment plan to routinely and precisely address the affected areas.
Surgical Options for Shoulder Dislocation
In severe cases of a dislocated shoulder, such as when the dislocation causes damage to surrounding areas, surgery may be recommended. An orthopedic surgeon can surgically repair the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles and tissues to ensure proper range of motion after healing. Surgery to heal a shoulder dislocation may be recommended if significant shoulder instability is anticipated, or if a doctor is concerned about future dislocations due to torn or strained tissues and tendons.
If you’ve been in a car accident and are experiencing shoulder pain that won’t go away, schedule an appointment with a car accident doctor at AICA Orthopedics as soon as possible. The multidisciplinary team of doctors at AICA Orthopedics can not only diagnose the reason for your pain and discomfort with orthopedic doctors, but also provide other medical services such as chiropractic and physical therapy all in the same office.