What Causes Arm Pain or Elbow Pain After a Car Accident?
Although there are many different causes of arm pain after a car accident, the actual mechanism of injury is often similar whether it’s upper arm pain, forearm pain, or elbow pain. One mechanism of injury is direct trauma to the arm or elbow, which happens when the impact from the crash causes the arm, forearm, or elbow to hit something inside of the car. Common impact points include the windshield, steering wheel, airbag, dashboard, inside door, side window, seat, or other parts of the inside of the car.
Another mechanism of injury involves a driver or passenger using their arms to resist the impact of the crash. This can happen to the driver while gripping the steering wheel tightly. It can also happen when a passenger puts their arm against the dashboard or side of the car. In either case, the bracing force of resisting the impact causes the pain.
The whiplash movement of the neck and spine is another mechanism of injury that can cause arm pain and arm numbness after a car accident. This happens because the disc in the neck herniates and begins to touch the spinal cord or because the brachial plexus nerves in the shoulder overstretch. When arm pain is caused by a neck injury, it is usually accompanied by neck pain. When arm pain is caused by overstretching the bundle of nerves that run through the shoulder and down the arm (known as the brachial plexus), there is usually no neck pain associated with it.
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Arm Anatomy and Elbow Anatomy
Understanding elbow anatomy will you help understand arm pain or elbow pain after a car accident.
The arm is made up of three main bones. The humerus is the long bone of the upper arm. The forearm is made up of two bones called the ulna and the radius. The upper arm bone (humerus) connects to the forearm bones (ulna and radius) at the elbow joint.
The bones of the elbow joint are held together by ligaments. The ulnar collateral ligament, the radial collateral ligament, and the annular ligament. These ligaments work together to create the movement of the elbow joint.
Common Arm and Elbow Injuries After a Car Accident
Pain is not an injury. Rather, it is a symptom of injury. The location of arm pain can help identify the injury. Common types of arm pain include burning, stabbing, dull, sharp, or stinging pain. It might also include tingling or arm numbness after a car accident. Any part of the upper arm, forearm, or elbow can be injured in a car accident.
Upper Arm Injuries
Common upper arm injuries include:
- Brachial Plexus Injury: The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that run through the should and split off to the arm, wrist, and hand. When the brachial plexus overstretches in a car accident, the nerve pain it causes runs down the arm.
- Broken Arm: A broken arm is a general term that includes a fracture of any bone in the arm. The name given to the broken arm will depend on the specific bone in the arm that is broken.
- Humerus Fracture: A broken arm that involves the humerus bone is called a humerus fracture. It is a difficult bone to break, though the extreme forces of a car accident can easily do so. If the broken bone stays in place, simple casting may be enough to heal this injury. If the bones fragment or move out of place, surgery may be required.
- Distal Humerus Fracture: When a humerus fracture occurs near the elbow, it is often called a distal humerus fracture.
Common forearm injuries include:
- Radius Fracture: The radius is one of the two long bones of the forearm that allows this part of your arm to twist. A broken arm that involves the bone often happens because the arm is extended outward at the time of impact. Treatment for a radius fracture includes simple casting for nondisplaced fractures and surgery to reduce displaced fractures and large bone fragments.
- Ulna fracture: An ulna fracture often happens at the same time as a radial fracture, with a treatment of wearing a cast or surgical correction.
The ends of the bones that make up the humerus, radius, and ulna that create the elbow joint have their own names. Each of these specialized bone parts can be fractured.
- Olecranon Fracture: The olecranon is the tip of the ulna that makes the point at the tip of the elbow. This bone can easily be dislocated or cracked on impact.
- Condylar Fracture: This .happens when the elbow joint fractures at the humerus. Depending on the part of the joint surface involved, it may be called a lateral condyle fracture, a supracondylar fracture, or medial condylar fracture.
- Elbow Ligament Damage: Any ligament that holds the elbow joint together can be damaged in a car accident.
- Dislocated Elbow: When the forces of the elbow are very extreme, the ligaments can stretch so much that the bones of the forearm no longer line up with the humerus bone of the upper arm. This is commonly referred to as a dislocated elbow.
Arm Pain Treatment After a Car Accident
The initial treatment of arm pain depends on the type of injury. For that reason, it is very important to diagnose the source of pain. Diagnosis starts with a physical evaluation to determine which part of the arm is causing the pain. X-rays and or an MRI may be ordered.
If there are no broken bones, a simple sling may be used to rest the arm while the body heals itself. Ice on the injured area will help prevent or reduce swelling. If the elbow joint is dislocated, a physician can push the elbow back into place. If there is a broken arm, a splint or cast may be necessary. With more severe broken bones or fractures, there may be a need for surgery.
Do You Need to Hire an Injury Lawyer?
If you experience minor arm pain or elbow pain after a car accident that heals without any treatment, you do not need to consult with a lawyer. On the other hand, if you have ongoing arm pain or elbow pain and the accident was caused by someone other than you, you should consult with an experienced auto accident lawyer, who will help you determine whether you need to hire one.