Chest Injuries After a Car Accident

Accident victims often feel chest pain after a car accident. Even a minor car accident can lead to chest discomfort due to seat belt bruises.

But some car accidents can lead to serious chest injuries. A collapsed lung or cardiac tamponade can cause death if not treated immediately.

Below, discover some of the most important facts about chest injuries after a car accident.

What Does the Structure of Your Chest Look Like?

What Does the Structure of Your Chest Look Like?

Your chest includes your body from your shoulders to your abdomen. It encloses several of the structures essential to your body’s functions, such as your heart and lungs. It also houses the airway that connects your nose and mouth to your lungs, as well as the major blood vessels.

Your rib cage protects the organs in your chest. The rib cage includes twelve ribs on each side. The rib bones run from your spine to your sternum.

At the front of the rib cage, the top seven ribs connect to the sternum through cartilage. The remaining five ribs either connect to the cartilage of other ribs or float freely.

At the rear of the rib cage, all twelve ribs connect to the spine through ligaments.

The cartilage and ligaments hold your ribs in place while still providing flexibility. This flexibility allows your rib cage to expand and contract when you breathe, bend, or twist.

Muscles sit over the rib cage. Tendons anchor these muscles to the sternum, ribs, and spine. These muscles give your body stability and strength. They also help you breathe by moving the ribs. This gives the diaphragm the space to expand and contract the lungs.

How Do Car Accidents Cause Chest Injuries?

During a car crash, your body wants to continue moving in the same direction and at the same speed as before the collision. The impact pushes your car in a different direction. The car imparts that change in motion to your body. 

This can cause injury when your body hits an area in your car, such as:

  • Side door
  • Seat belt
  • Seat
  • Dashboard
  • Steering wheel
  • Airbag

The impact of your body on the interior of your car can damage the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments of your chest. It can also damage the organs inside your chest.

You can also suffer chest injuries if the passenger compartment collapses or something penetrates the passenger compartment.

Chest injuries after a car accident fall into two broad categories.

Blunt Force Chest Injuries

Blunt force chest injuries happen when you get hit by an object that does not penetrate the chest. As a result, you will not suffer an open wound. Instead, you will see bruises. A seat belt injury, for example, is a blunt force chest injury.

Penetrating Chest Injuries

Penetrating chest injuries happen when an object penetrates the tissue of your chest. You will have an open wound as part of your chest injury.

Penetrating chest injuries can happen when an object in the interior of your car, like a broken steering column or gear shift lever, pierces your chest. They can also happen when an object comes through your window during your crash and impales you. A signpost or piece of exposed rebar could cause this type of penetrating chest injury.

What Are Some Examples of Chest Injuries?

A car accident can cause a range of chest injuries. The forces on your chest can fracture ribs, tear tissue, and even puncture your organs. Some chest injuries that can result from a car accident include:

Strained Chest

A strain happens when muscles or tendons stretch or tear. When you get hit by a car, your seat belt can bruise your muscles. Your body may hyperextend as you impact the seat belt, stretching and tearing the muscles and the tendons that anchor them to your chest.

Some symptoms of a strained chest include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling
  • Limited range of motion

A strain typically clears up in a few weeks. Doctors do not usually operate on a strain. Instead, they prescribe rest, ice, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy.

Dislocated Ribs

A rib can move out of place if your accident tears the cartilage or ligaments holding it. You will often feel a pop when a rib dislocates. Afterward, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Painful breathing
  • Swelling
  • Bruising

These symptoms usually do not happen because the rib has moved so far that it pushes on your lungs. Instead, dislocated ribs pull awkwardly on the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in your chest. The nerves in your soft tissue tell your brain that something is out of place by sending pain signals.

Cartilage can heal, but it heals slowly. Ligaments can heal over a few weeks to a few months. Physical therapy will usually help reduce your symptoms by building up the muscles near the injury to support the injured rib.

Fractured Ribs

A rib fracture can range in severity from minor to life-threatening. If the broken rib displaces, it can puncture the lining around your lungs and other organs, leading to serious complications.

Symptoms of a fractured rib include:

  • Chest pain
  • Swelling
  • Labored breathing
  • Shortness of breath

A non-displaced rib fracture will heal in six to eight weeks. A displaced rib fracture might require surgery to rebuild or remove the rib.

Cardiac Tamponade

Internal bleeding can cause blood to collect in the pericardium. The pericardium is a membrane that surrounds the heart. As the blood collects, it squeezes the heart. This can lead to arrhythmia and death if doctors do not immediately treat it.


If something penetrates the lining around a lung, the air leak can squeeze the lung and cause it to collapse. A pneumothorax requires emergency treatment so the lung can reinflate. Without treatment, the accident victim will strain to breathe and may die.

What Compensation Can I Recover for Chest Injuries?

California uses a fault-based auto insurance system. When an accident results from another driver’s negligence, you can recover injury compensation from the at-fault driver or their insurer. 

This compensation covers your medical expenses and income losses. Your damages can also include your pain, suffering, and the other ways the injury diminished the quality of your life.

Chest injuries can cause significant pain and limit your activities after a car accident. In some cases, they might even cause serious health consequences and require emergency medical treatment.

Contact a San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer for Help 

To discuss the injury compensation you might seek for a chest injury, contact Mission Personal Injury Lawyers or call us at (619) 777-5555 for a free consultation. Our San Diego personal injury lawyers are standing by to discuss your claim.