Soft tissue auto injuries: Distinguishing fact from fiction

In the United States, there are on average six million car crashes every year. The most common type of injury caused by these car crashes is a soft tissue injury. We see clients with these injuries almost every day. As such, it is important to be able to distinguish facts from the fictions commonly associated with soft tissue injuries.

discussing soft tissue injury

The body’s “soft” tissues connect and support the body’s structures, such as organs and bones. Soft tissues include ligaments, tendons and muscles. Ligaments are bands of connective tissue that connect our bones together, while tendons attach our muscles to bones. Muscles surround our joints and allow us to move by contracting and relaxing.

Soft tissue injuries occur when there is trauma to any of these areas. In car crashes, these soft tissues can stretch or tear, resulting in a sprain (injury to a ligament) or strain (injury to a muscle or tendon). One of the most common soft tissue injuries caused by car crashes is whiplash, a sprain and/or strain of the soft tissues in the cervical spine.

FICTION: No property damage means no bodily injury.

FACT: It is easy to assume that if there is not much damage to the outside of your car, everything is fine under the hood. However, only a mechanic can do a thorough examination and determine if the vehicle’s internal structure and systems are intact. The same rationale applies to your body after a car crash.

Cars, unlike the human body, are designed to absorb the energy of an impact in the event of a crash. It is a common misconception that little or no property damage means little or no bodily injury. In fact, a study published by the Society of Automotive Engineers found that minor property damage can be a major contributing factor to occupant injury.

If you’re involved in a car crash, do not let a lack of property damage influence your decision to seek medical treatment. If you experience headaches, muscle stiffness, pain or loss of motion, seek medical treatment immediately to ensure you are getting the care you need.

FICTION: Soft tissue injuries cause pain immediately.

FACT: Unlike a broken bone, symptoms associated with a soft tissue injury may not manifest right away. When you are involved in a car crash, your body reacts by pumping adrenaline, a hormone that increases blood flow and breathing. This can temporarily mask an injury that you might otherwise feel immediately.

When it comes to soft tissue injuries, there is typically a period of little or no pain directly after a crash. As a result, it is common for people to assume they are fine, return to their routine, and only later realize something is wrong.

Common symptoms of soft tissue injuries include:

  • swelling
  • pain
  • loss of motion
  • muscle cramping or spasms
  • limited range of motion.

It is always a good idea to see a doctor immediately after a crash, even if you are initially pain free. Doing so will allow a medical professional to properly examine you and potentially discover an injury that might be asymptomatic for days or even weeks after the crash.

FICTION: X-rays can reveal soft tissue injuries.

FACT: Another common fiction is that soft tissue injuries can be detected by x-rays. In fact, soft tissue injuries do not show up on x-rays and are frequently under-reported or over-looked at the emergency room.

X-rays are mainly used to examine bones and joints. Though x-rays can be used to detect fluid accumulations around a joint, which is a sign of a sprain or strain, they are more commonly used to rule out other causes of pain such as arthritis or bone spurs.

Soft tissue injuries are commonly detected by other methods of examination, including a physical examination, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasounds. If you start to experience symptoms associated with soft tissue injuries, do not let a x-ray report convince you that you are not injured.

FICTION: Soft tissue injuries always heal in 6-8 weeks.

FACT: Every person’s body is different. As a result, there is no standard recovery time for soft tissue injuries. Though many injuries will resolve in three to six months, it is quite common for these injuries to have lasting effects, especially for older individuals and those with pre-existing degenerative conditions.

The healing process for soft tissue injuries is unique. When the body’s soft tissues are damaged, the body uses scar tissue to replace the damaged areas of the ligaments, tendons and muscles. This process takes place in the first several weeks of recovery, followed by a remodeling phase that can take as long as 12 months. During this process, the body “remodels” the scar tissue to make it more flexible so it can function like the body’s normal soft tissue.

The severity of the injury also affects recovery time. There are three “grades” of severity for soft tissue injuries: Grade 1 (mild), Grade 2 (moderate), and Grade 3 (severe).  As you can imagine, the recovery time for a Grade 3 soft tissue injury will likely take more time than a Grade 1 or 2. Seeking medical treatment as soon as possible will allow medical professionals to determine the severity of the injury and get you started with the appropriate treatment immediately.

The experienced attorneys at Allen & Allen are familiar with these challenges and navigate them every day. If you or someone you know has been injured, call us at 1-800-768-2222 for a free consultation or fill out our contact form.