Your chest protects your vital organs. It also supports and moves your upper limbs and head. When you injure your chest, the pain and stiffness you experience can disable you from moving your body and shoulders normally. A chest injury can even cause life-threatening damage to your circulatory and respiratory systems.
You may incur significant losses due to a chest injury. You may require treatment and therapy to recover from your injuries. And you may need time away from work to heal.
What Is the Anatomy of Your Chest?
The scientific name for your chest is the thorax. This section of your body sits between your head and abdomen. It contains your heart, lungs, and the major blood vessels connecting them. Many important structures pass through the chest, including the esophagus and lymphatic system. Your vagus nerve connecting your brain to your vital organs also runs into your chest.
Your chest includes your ribcage, which includes 12 pairs of ribs that attach to the 12 thoracic vertebrae of your spine. Cartilage attaches the top seven pairs of ribs to your sternum in the front of your chest. These ribs are called the true ribs, named this way because they attach to bones in your front and back.
The next three pairs of ribs attach to the true ribs through cartilage. Doctors refer to these ribs as false ribs because they do not attach to the sternum directly. Instead, they only attach to the sternum indirectly by attaching to the true ribs.
The bottom two pairs of ribs do not attach to anything in the front of your chest. They only attach to your spine in your back. These ribs are called floating ribs.
Your intercostal muscles sit between your ribs. Additional chest muscles overlie the ribcage. These muscles attach to the spine, ribs, shoulder blades, and collar bones through tendons. Chest muscles give your chest the strength to hold your body and head upright. They also help you move your upper body and shoulders.
What Are Common Causes of Chest Injuries?
While not a hard and fast rule, a “chest injury” generally refers to damage to the musculoskeletal structures enclosing the chest cavity. The term “thoracic injury” refers to damage to the organs inside the chest cavity. Thus, this discussion will focus on musculoskeletal injuries rather than internal injuries.
Chest injuries typically happen due to three types of trauma:
A foreign object that penetrates your chest can:
- Tear soft tissues
- Rupture blood vessels
- Sever nerves
- Break bones
The resulting open wound may bleed severely and expose you to microbes that can cause infections. The open wound may also leak air into the chest cavity, interfering with your ability to inflate your lungs.
Open wounds can happen in many types of accidents. For example, you could suffer an open chest wound in an on-the-job accident where you fall onto a sharp or pointed object or an object, such as a nail, gets propelled into your chest.
Blunt injuries happen when an object strikes your chest without piercing it. The force of the object can fracture bones and tear connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
Blunt injuries often happen in collisions. For example, you could suffer a blunt injury in a car accident when you strike your chest on the steering wheel or dashboard.
Hyperextension injuries occur when the forces you experience in an accident cause your body to stretch abnormally. You might stretch in the wrong direction. Or you might stretch further than you should.
In either case, the stress can:
- Rupture tendons, ligaments, or muscles
- Tear cartilage
- Dislocate joints
Hyperextension injuries often happen when your body experiences twisting or bending forces. For example, you could hyperextend the muscles in your chest in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property.
What Are Some Examples of Chest Injuries?
Chest injuries can take a few different forms depending on the tissues damaged in your accident. Some common chest injuries include:
A bruised chest is a very common car accident injury. When your body whips around during a car accident, your chest can hit the seat belt and door. You might even hit your chest on the steering wheel or dashboard.
The impact can rupture blood vessels under the skin, producing discoloration. The bruise may swell and produce pain.
Hyperextension trauma, such as a strained chest, occurs when your muscles and tendons stretch and tear.
A strained chest causes symptoms such as:
You will usually recover from a strained chest within four to six weeks.
When you tear the cartilage holding your ribs, they can dislocate.
This condition can cause symptoms including:
- Chest pain, particularly when inhaling
- Popping or clicking sound in the chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Limited range of motion
The dislocated rib can also create pressure on your spine and back, producing back pain. It may even compress nerves in your chest and back. As a result, you may experience radiating pain, numbness, and weakness in your limbs.
An impact on your ribcage can break your ribs. The symptoms of broken ribs are very similar to the symptoms of torn cartilage. But when you tear cartilage, you will usually feel pain in the center of your chest or near your spine. When you break a rib, you will often experience pain along the ribs away from the joints.
In most situations, a broken rib will heal without medical intervention. Although doctors formerly recommended taping or wrapping the chest for broken ribs, they now recommend against doing this. The wrappings can restrict breathing and increase the risk of pneumonia.
Broken ribs can cause serious complications if they puncture the chest cavity or vital organs. You might also need immediate medical attention if you fracture more than three ribs in more than two places. This type of break, called flail chest, carries a high risk of permanent lung damage or even death.
How Can You Pursue Compensation After Suffering a Chest Injury?
You can pursue compensation for a chest injury caused by someone else’s negligent or intentional actions. To prove negligence, you must show that the other person failed to exercise the reasonable care they should have and that you suffered an injury as a result. To prove intent, you must show that the other person intended to make harmful contact with you.
A chest injury can cause chronic pain and long-term disabilities. Contact Attorneys of Chicago Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation to discuss your chest injury and the financial compensation you may pursue under Illinois personal injury law.