Chest injuries should always be taken seriously. Since your chest supports and moves your upper body, chest injuries can disable you. And in a small percentage of cases, they can lead to life-threatening complications.
As a result, you may face significant medical costs after you suffer a chest injury as doctors work to diagnose and treat the severity and extent of the damage. You may need to adjust your work duties and home activities until you recover from the pain and disability caused by your injured chest.
What Is the Structure of Your Chest?
Your chest sits between your head and your abdomen. Technically, the chest starts at the base of your neck and ends at your diaphragm. The chest supports your torso, arms, and head. It also bends and turns your upper body.
Most importantly, your chest protects your vital organs, including your:
Most doctors distinguish between chest injuries to the musculoskeletal system and thoracic injuries to the chest cavity and the vital organs inside it. According to this distinction, your chest includes the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that enclose the chest cavity.
Your ribcage includes 12 pairs of ribs. These ribs attach to the 12 vertebrae of your thoracic spine. Ligaments secure the ribs to the spine while allowing them to flex as you breathe.
At the front of your chest, the top seven ribs, called the true ribs, attach to your sternum. The joint between the true ribs and sternum is formed from cartilage. The next three ribs, called the false ribs, do not attach directly to the sternum. Instead, they attach to the true ribs. Again, the joint between the false ribs and true ribs is formed from cartilage.
The bottom two ribs do not attach to anything at the front of your chest. The front ends of these ribs, called the floating ribs, float freely. In addition, intercostal muscles sit between the ribs. These muscles help your chest expand as you inhale. The lungs contain no muscle tissue. They can only inflate when muscles expand the chest.
Additional chest muscles sit over the ribcage. They anchor to your ribs, sternum, pelvis, spine, shoulder blades, and collar bones through tendons.
What Causes Chest Injuries?
Chest injuries can result from three types of trauma.
You could experience a blow to your chest that causes a blunt impact. The force of a blunt impact can fracture bones and tear connective tissues like ligaments and cartilage.
A blunt impact can happen in almost any type of accident. For instance, you could injure your chest when it strikes the ground in a slip and fall accident. You can also experience a blunt impact when something strikes your chest, such as when you’re hit by a car in a pedestrian accident.
A traumatic accident can stretch your chest further than normal, tearing soft tissues such as your ligaments, tendons, muscles, and cartilage. And even if they do not tear, the soft tissues can get stretched so far that the fibers become damaged.
Hyperextension to the chest is commonly caused by car accidents. Depending on how your car gets hit, your body can twist and bend unnaturally, stretching — and harming — the structures of the chest.
When an object pierces your chest, it can tear soft tissues and fracture bones. More importantly, it can penetrate the chest cavity and damage vital organs.
A penetrating injury can happen when you fall onto something sharp. For example, you would suffer one if you fell onto a pointed piece of wood or metal in a construction accident.
What Are Some Examples of Chest Injuries?
Chest trauma has the potential to damage many types of chest tissues. Some common chest injuries include:
Bruises happen when trauma causes the blood vessels under the skin to rupture. Chest bruises often occur when your body hits your seat belt in a car accident. The subcutaneous bleeding creates a patch of muscle that is discolored, painful, and swollen. This injury usually heals within a week or so.
A sprained chest can happen when the ligaments connecting your ribs to your spine get hyperextended.
This injury can lead to:
- Pain where your ribs meet your spine
- Limited range of motion
You might have also felt or heard a pop in your ribs when you got injured.
A mild chest sprain will often heal within one to two months. A severe strain may take several months to heal. In the meantime, you may need to limit your activities to avoid irritating the ligament and causing further inflammation.
Chest strains happen when you hyperextend the chest muscles or the tendons that anchor them to your bones.
This injury can produce symptoms such as:
- Chest pain, particularly when inhaling
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness and stiffness
Chest strain usually heals in four to six weeks. You may need rest and anti-inflammatory medication to manage your symptoms, but doctors rarely operate to repair these injuries.
Torn Chest Cartilage
Trauma can tear the cartilage that holds your ribs to the sternum. Trauma can also cause inflammation in the cartilage without tearing it.
These injuries lead to:
- Pain in the front of your chest
- Inflammation near your sternum
The pain you experience can mimic that caused by a heart attack. If you experience pain in the front of your chest after undergoing chest trauma, you should seek medical attention to diagnose its source.
Doctors cannot treat torn chest cartilage. It must heal on its own. Unfortunately, cartilage heals very slowly. As a result, you might experience pain, stiffness, and swelling for several months after your injury.
A fractured rib can produce pain similar to that caused by a strain or torn cartilage. If you feel pain along the rib rather than in the area near your sternum, you probably have a strain or a broken rib.
Doctors allow broken ribs to heal without treatment unless you have multiple fractures affecting multiple ribs. This condition, called flail chest, is potentially fatal if doctors do not repair the broken ribs.
What Compensation Is Available For a Chest Injury?
You may have a legal claim for compensation if someone else’s actions caused your chest injury. To recover compensation, you must prove that the other person intentionally or negligently injured you.
Once you prove liability, you can seek compensation for your economic losses, including medical expenses, wage losses, and out-of-pocket costs. You can also pursue compensation for your non-economic losses, which represent the human cost of your injuries due to pain, mental suffering, and disability.
A chest injury has the potential to cause debilitating pain and stiffness. In some situations, an injury to your chest could even damage your heart or lungs, leading to a life-threatening thoracic injury. Contact The King Firm for a free consultation at (229) 386-1376 to discuss your chest injury and the compensation you can seek for it.