The high forces involved in any vehicle accident can damage delicate soft tissues like nerve fibers, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even the delicate neurological tissue of the brain. Car crashes can also cause distinctive injuries to the human body’s skeletal system. While anything might happen in the chaos of a crash, doctors know that certain injuries are particularly common after wrecks.
The human wrist contains many small, fragile bones that can be dislocated or fractured in a vehicle accident. Doctors commonly see this sort of fracture when a patient braced themselves against the dashboard or steering wheel just before impact. Victims may also break their wrists by hitting them against the interior of the car or being hit by a flying object during the wreck.
Like wrist fractures, arm fractures often occur after a victim braces for impact. The force of the impact is transmitted up the bones of the arm, which are more sturdy than the tiny bones of the wrist but still vulnerable to cracking when enough force is applied. There are three major bones in the arm that are vulnerable to fractures: the humorous, which runs through the upper arm, and the radius and ulna, which run side by side through the lower arm.
Lower Leg Fractures
Like the radius and ulna, the tibia and fibula run in parallel through the lower leg. These bones are strong but flexible; they’re built to absorb the repeated impact of walking, running, and jumping. Still, given enough force, these bones can crack or splinter in a wreck.
Upper Leg Fractures
The femur, which runs from hip to thigh, is one of the strongest bones in the human body It’s built to take a lot of stress, but in a high-speed crash, it’s not immune from breakage. The femur may crack in the middle, or it may be damaged at the fragile ends where it leads to the knee or hip. These areas are also prone to damage from bone chips, cartilage damage or degradation, or arthritis, all of which can be exacerbated by the trauma of a car accident.
The ribcage protects the delicate, essential tissues of the heart and lungs. Broken ribs are particularly common in car accidents, since a victim’s chest may be thrown hard against a seat belt or hit by a rapidly expanding airbag. Cracked ribs can be difficult to treat, since there is no way to apply a cast to the human ribcage to hold a fractured rib immobile without restricting breathing. In severe cases, a sliver of bone from a cracked rib may penetrate a lung, requiring emergency surgery and a long period of recuperation.
Some doctors believe that hips are the most frequently fractured areas after a car accident. This area of the pelvis, where it meets the femur, can be a particularly devastating one to injure; a hip injury may prevent a patient from bearing weight for weeks or months, and may continue to cause pain years after an accident.
The human pelvis may look like a difficult bone to break, but high-speed collisions can crack or even shatter this tough ring of bone. Pelvis fractures are most common in motorcycle accidents, but they do occur in some car accidents when high forces are involved. Like hip fractures, pelvis fractures may prevent a patient for standing and walking for an extended period of time.
The spine is composed of small bones called vertebrae that run from the base of the skull to the tailbone. There bones are wrapped around the spinal cord, the column of nervous tissue that transmits signals from the brain to the body and back again. These bones connect to each other at facet joints, which are cushioned by fluid-filled discs. Nerves also exit and enter the spinal cord through small holes between the bones. Even a very small fracture, bone chip, or bone spur in this area can press on a nerve or deform a disc, causing excruciating pain. A severe fracture to the spinal cord may cause temporary or permanent paralysis; the most severe cases can cause death.
The hard bones surrounding the brain are tough, but not so tough that they won’t crack under pressure. Skull fractures may happen when a crash victim’s head slams into a dashboard, steering wheel, side window, or the front or back of a seat. Whenever a skull fracture happens, there’s a very high chance that the delicate tissues of the brain have also been injured, so life-saving surgery may be necessary to prevent swelling or bleeding in the brain.
The bones of the face are more delicate than the bones of the skull, and can easily shatter in a car accident. The bony bridge of the nose, the cheekbones, and the delicate orbital socket can fracture if a victim slams face-first into an airbag, dashboard, steering wheel, or the back of a seat. Crash victims may also fracture their jaw, and in some wrecks victims may even shatter teeth from the force of an impact. The fragile joint that connects the lower jaw and the skull can be particularly vulnerable if a victim hits a hard object with their chin or the side of their jaw.
The clavicle is the long horizontal bone that runs alone the top of the ribcage. These bones are essential to the proper movement of the arm and shoulders. Because these bones are long and slender, they’re particularly vulnerable to fractures. Because the clavicles are so essential to arm function, someone with a fractured clavicle may have difficulty performing tasks as basic as typing and putting on clothes.