Chest injuries are, unfortunately, frequent experiences. A minor car accident can produce a bruise on your chest when it hits your seat belt. Even ending up a victim of a slip and fall accident presents a high risk of impacting or stressing your chest.
A chest injury can lead to a thoracic injury that damages the vital organs inside the chest. A blow to the chest, for instance, can break a rib that, in turn, damages the heart or lungs. Still, even when a chest injury leaves your vital organs untouched, it can cause debilitating pain and weakness that interfere with your ability to work or perform daily household tasks.
What Is the Function of Your Chest?
As “chest” is not necessarily a medical term, doctors who encounter patients with chest injuries instead pay attention to the thorax, which covers the section between the bottom of your neck and the end of the diaphragm.
Nevertheless, in using the words “thorax” or “chest,” doctors will typically distinguish between the musculoskeletal structures and the cavity the term in question protects. As such, the chest is typically said to include the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage surrounding the chest cavity. It does not necessarily refer to the organs inside.
The chest cavity, in contrast, does involve the organs, as it contains your heart, lungs, and major blood vessels, as well as the esophagus, which connects your mouth to your stomach and the airways that connect your mouth and nose to your lungs.
The most characteristic structure of the chest is the ribcage, which is composed of 12 pairs of ribs that all attach to the spine via ligaments. These ligaments hold the ribs in place and stretch slightly to allow them to move when you breathe, bend, or twist.
The sternum sits centered at the front of your chest. The top ten ribs on each side attach directly or indirectly to the sternum. The upper seven — known as the “true ribs” — attach directly to the sternum with cartilage.
The following three — the “false ribs” — attach to the true ribs through cartilage. The bottom two ribs do not attach to the sternum at all and instead “float” below the false ribs. As such, these are known as the floating ribs. Lastly, intercostal ribs sit between the true ribs.
Chest muscles, like the pectoralis muscles, sit over your ribs and attach to them, as well as your collarbone, spine, and shoulder blades.
What Can Cause a Chest Injury?
Chest injuries can result from three main forms of trauma, which are as follows:
Hyperextension occurs when an accident stresses your body so severely that it stretches and tears your soft tissues. The most common example of hyperextension trauma takes place in car accidents. As your body whips around in a car collision, your chest muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage can all be hyperextended, even if you do not hit your chest anywhere.
When something strikes your chest (without piercing it), you suffer from blunt trauma. A seat belt injury, for instance, is often the result of the blunt trauma that occurs when your chest strikes your seat belt during a rear-end collision. Blunt chest trauma can also happen during a slip and fall accident in which your chest strikes the ground.
A very dangerous type of chest injury happens when an object penetrates the chest, potentially injuring the bones and soft tissues within. The object can also enter the chest cavity, allowing air to enter the chest cavity with enough pressure to collapse the lungs. The object can also tear the heart or the major blood vessels, causing internal bleeding or death.
What Are Some Examples of Chest Injuries?
Chest injuries take various forms depending on the structures that are damaged in the process. Some chest injuries you can suffer in an accident include the following:
A common injury that is often caused by a seat belt is a bruised chest. The pressure of the belt during a collision causes the capillaries under your skin to rupture, and the accumulated blood causes your skin to discolor. You might also experience pain and swelling.
Fortunately, a chest bruise usually clears up within a few days to a few weeks, depending on its severity.
Chest Strain and Sprain
You can suffer strains or sprains when your soft tissues are damaged.
Strains happen when muscles or tendons get damaged.
In a typical strain, these soft tissues stretch and tear, which can cause symptoms such as:
- Muscle pain and swelling
- Muscle spasms
Sprains happen when ligaments get stretched and torn.
Since the main ligaments in your chest attach your ribs to your spine, a sprained chest will often cause the following:
- Pain and inflammation near your spine, particularly when breathing
- Limited range of chest and back motion
- Popping in your back at the time of the injury
Mild sprains and strains usually heal in four to six weeks, but severe injuries involving full-thickness tears can take months to do so. In the meantime, you might experience pain with every breath you take.
Trauma, such as a blow to the chest, can tear the cartilage that connects the true ribs to the sternum or that which connects the false ribs to the true ribs. In any case, when you tear cartilage, your ribs can shift out of position as you move, breathe, or press on nearby soft tissues.
As a result, you may experience further symptoms, such as:
- Pain near your sternum
- Clicking in the center of your chest
Torn cartilage heals very slowly, so you may experience these symptoms for several months or longer.
A broken rib and torn cartilage are often confused with one another. Torn cartilage will usually produce symptoms near the center of your chest, while a broken rib can produce symptoms anywhere along your ribs, including your side or back.
Thankfully, a broken rib will often heal on its own without any medical treatment, but doctors will recommend limiting your activities and against taping or wrapping your chest.
How Can I Get Compensated For a Chest Injury Caused By Someone Else’s Negligence?
You can pursue compensation if someone else’s negligent or intentional actions injured your chest.
To prove intent, you must show that the person at fault planned to cause harmful contact. For negligence, you must show that the at-fault party failed to exercise reasonable care, which means they knew or should have known their actions could harm you.
In any case, a chest injury can cause pain or even lead to a life-threatening injury. Contact Zayed Law Offices at (312) 726-1616 for a free consultation to discuss the compensation you can seek for your chest injury.