If your chest hurts after a car accident, it’s almost always a sign of an injury to the ribs, sternum, or muscles of the chest—or even the heart or other organs. Because these injuries can be so severe, and even life-threatening in some cases, chest pain should never be ignored after an accident. Even “minor” chest pain (such as that caused by a seat belt) won’t always go away or get better without treatment.
Of course, not all causes of chest pain are equally dangerous. Below, we’ll cover the four most common reasons your chest might hurt after a car accident, and what to do for each one.
4 Most Common Cause of Chest Pain After an Accident
1. Bruised Ribs
When too much pressure is put on the chest, such as during an automobile accident, it can damage the fragile rib cage or sternum (chest bone), but that doesn’t always mean anything breaks. Rather, your ribs and sternum can be bruised by the force of impact—a painful condition that takes time and self-care to heal. Symptoms include a dull ache in the chest, which often gets worse when inhaling, sneezing, or moving in certain ways. If you experience these symptoms your best bet is to see a doctor, although most of the recuperation will be done at home. Your doctor can make sure nothing more serious is wrong (such as a heart injury).
Bruised ribs are often caused by the strain of the upper strap of your seat belt across your chest during the accident. You may notice “seat belt bruise” on the skin of the chest, although the real damage is the bruising to the bone and cartilage underneath.
2. Cracked Ribs
Cracked or broken ribs are a more serious injury than bruised ribs. They can be caused by the seat belt in extreme cases, but are more common if you are thrown forward against something like the dashboard. We also see them commonly in motorcycle and bicycle accidents. These will tend to produce sharp pain which is likely to be severe when inhaling. These injuries also tend to restrict your movement in a big way until they heal.
A broken rib cannot be put in a cast, but your doctor can help prescribe treatment to make sure it heals properly. A doctor can also do imaging tests to check whether any ribs were torn free from their cartilage, or if any of them post a danger to the organs underneath. Recovery time is longer for broken ribs than bruised ribs, often 6 weeks or more.
3. Damage to the Chest Muscles
Bone isn’t the only thing that can be damaged in the chest. The chest muscles can be put under tremendous strain during an accident, especially if one side of the torso is restrained by your seat belt but the other side is thrown forward—or if your arm is caught during the accident. This will tend to present as a dull, aching pain that dramatically limits certain types of movements, and may not be affected by breathing. You will also experience swelling of the area, although bruising may be less than if ribs are broken. Always go to a doctor for suspected muscle injuries—these can have long-term effects if not treated properly.
4. Internal Injury
Chest pain can be a sign of a serious, even life-threatening injury to your internal organs. In particular, the heart and lungs both occupy the chest cavity, and damage to any of these can be fatal if not treated. If you experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue, and/or dizziness, get emergency help immediately.
It’s unclear whether a car accident can cause a heart attack on its own, but the injuries sustained in an accident can certainly lead to heart failure or direct damage to the heart or lungs.
And remember—you do not need to pay for your treatment on your own. If your car accident was not your fault, you have the right to a financial recovery to cover treatment and more. Always talk to a lawyer.
Talk to a Car Accident Lawyer for Free
Chest pain can be frightening—and in many cases, serious. Don’t navigate your car accident claim alone. Our car accident attorneys offer a FREE consultation and can give you clear answers on your case. Let us help. Call us at (404) 341-6555 or fill out the form to the right to get your free consultation today.