When we think of injuries that happen in car accidents, the injuries that most often come to mind are broken bones, concussions, or neck and back injuries. People generally do not give thought to ligaments—in fact, some people may not even be aware of what a ligament is, what it does for our bodies, and how it can be injured in an accident. However, ligament injuries can be serious and long lasting.
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What Is a Ligament?
A ligament is simply fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone. By connecting one bone to another, usually where joints are, the ligament helps to stabilize the joint, keep bones aligned, and help the skeleton bear the weight of our bodies.
We most often hear of ligament injuries in sports. Injuries to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial cruciate ligament (MCL) are common injuries to the knees in athletes. But ligaments are also damaged when people sustain injuries like a sprained ankle, achilles heel injuries, TMJ in the jaw, plantar fasciitis, or a shoulder separation (which involves ligaments, unlike a shoulder dislocation, which is a detachment of the humerus bone), all of which can happen in accidents.
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How Torn Ligaments Happen
Because a ligament connects bone to bone at a joint, any action that separates the bones, thus putting stress on the ligament can result in a torn ligament. Think of someone who missteps off a curb, for example. If the foot lands sideways, the bone in the foot is being pulled away from the bone in the lower leg, thus stretching and tearing the ligament in the ankle (which is how a sprained ankle occurs).
In a car accident, this kind of stress happens all the time. The acute and sudden impact of an accident that thrusts the body forward but not the head, can pressure the ligaments in the cervical spine and neck, leading to a cervical sprain. An arm or hand that reaches out to keep the body from impacting with the interior of the vehicle can lead to a torn ligament in the wrist. Even shoulders can suffer torn ligaments, if the arm is not supported as the body is thrust forward in a rear-end impact.
Whiplash and Torn Ligaments
Whiplash is a common injury sustained in a car accident. Whiplash can involve torn ligaments when the ligaments connecting bones in the neck, or connecting the neck bones to the skull are injured. There injuries are often called sprains. Another common injury is a neck strain, although a strain involves a tear to the tendons that connect the muscles to bones. Both neck sprains and strains are common injuries in a car accident, and the term whiplash is usually used interchangeably for either injuries to ligaments or tendons.
Sometimes the symptoms of a torn ligament are immediately obvious. Pain, swelling and stiffness may all be present. A victim may also experience spasms and bruising. Other times, the symptoms may be very slow to develop, with a victim not feeling serious pain until hours after an injury.
The level of pain may depend on where the victim has sustained the torn ligaments. Injuries to the ligaments in the knee are usually extraordinarily painful almost immediately. Sprains and strains to the neck may just cause discomfort at first, and then later become more painful.
After an accident that causes an injury to a ligament, most professionals will recommend “RICE,” which stands for rest, ice (to reduce swelling), compression, and elevation of the injury.
No matter where on your body a torn ligament occurs, the standard X-ray given at most hospitals may not identify a torn ligament. X-Rays see and diagnose injuries to bone, not to ligaments (or tendons). Thus, in many cases, someone may go to an ER, and be sent home as “fine.” In other cases, if an X-ray does not identify damage to bones, an ER will diagnose either a sprain or a strain once a bone break is ruled out. In either case, followup with Pickering private doctors, who can perform diagnostic tests that see and diagnose torn ligaments, is vital for patients to recover.
Recovery from Torn Ligaments
Torn ligaments may heal (or improve) on their own. However, patients may still need casts or splints to stabilize the area where the ligament was damaged during recovery, and any joint that is weight bearing may have to keep weight off of it during recovery.
Sometimes, ligament injuries, especially more serious tears, will get better over time, but may not ever fully heal. Patients may always experience certain degrees of pain, discomfort and immobility, even years after an accident.
More serious ligament injuries will need surgical repair, although some ligaments are more amenable to surgical intervention than others. There is generally no surgery for damage to ligaments in the neck or spine area. However, injuries to ligaments in the shoulder and knee are often treated with surgeries. Entire reconstruction of knees or shoulder may need to be performed by your surgeon, with recovery lasting many weeks.
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Insurance Benefits and Lawsuits
The seriousness of the tear and its location can make a big difference in the time it takes to heal, and thus, in the insurance benefits you may need to assist you in recovering from an accident. In more serious cases, some ligament tears may entitle you to file a lawsuit against a negligent driver that caused the accident. The lawsuit can often result in the ability to recover damages for pain and suffering, lost wages and future health care expenses, among other things.
A lawyer that has experience with ligament tears can help you present your case to an insurance company and to the courts, to help you get the benefits you need to assist you in your recovery.
The Pickering torn ligaments lawyers at Preszler Law Firm can help you recover accident benefits and often recover damages via lawsuit to help you pay your future medical bills or lost wages after an accident. Call us today to discuss your injuries and your accident.