Exactly what occurs to our bodies in a car crash?
It all comes down to kinetic energy. When you are driving along in your car, you have kinetic energy. Think of a high-speed crash like a punch in the chest. While it is possible to absorb energy from a fist into your chest, at some point your body can’t absorb a sufficient amount of energy, which will result in injury.
Broken bones are a common consequence of car crashes because of the extreme force exerted on the bones. Bedford, Texas accident attorney Brad Parker says that in his experience, breaks to the lower extremities are most common.
“Many cars are designed where the engine will drop to the ground when a high-impact front collision occurs. Oftentimes this will result in fractures of the legs, ankles, and feet,” Brad says.
Brad says, “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of wearing your seatbelt.”
In a crash, those not connected to the car via seatbelt will continue to move forward at the speed the car was traveling after the car has crashed.
The Modern Car
Modern cars are designed to absorb as much of the energy in the structure of the car. Also known as a crush zone, crumple zones are areas of a vehicle that are designed to deform and crumple in a collision. This absorbs some of the energy of the impact, preventing some of the force from being transmitted to car occupants.
Cars generally also have multiple airbags, but the frontal airbags will only deploy in a frontal crash. Newer cars have a curtain airbag, and that airbag is across the whole top of the car and the side window. When the sensors in the car detect sufficient deceleration, the airbag deploys downward.
Automotive engineering miracles aside, being cautious of your speed is still instrumental in saving your life. “There’s no question that the faster you’re going in a car incident, the higher severity of injury you will sustain,” Brad says.
In the case of motorcycle accidents, the only thing preventing injury is a helmet.
Brad recently represented a client who was injured on a motorcycle. She sustained numerous fractures, more than you can count on both hands, and is having to learn to walk again. Brad says, “She’s a young mother and is incapable of taking care of her two children or entering the workforce. My client requires enormous amounts of physical therapy, and it will be months if not years before she is fully able to care for herself and her family again.”
Beyond the physical injuries, medical treatment and/or therapy required after a car accident, there are other factors that must be considered. Because of your injuries, you may not be able to continue in your work. “Many cases involve lost wages and the mental toll the experience has on a client. The whole process is extremely time consuming, painful and frustrating,” Brad says.
Not All Breaks are the Same
Some of the different kinds of fractures from car accidents include:
- Compound –With a compound fracture, the broken bone will push out and protrude directly through the skin. There is a very high risk of infection with a compound fracture.
- Transverse – The bone is snapped into two pieces as a result of direct pressure or a direct hit, and it’s generally broken at a right angle, perpendicular to the long axis of the broken bone.
- Comminuted – When bones break into multiple pieces, the resulting fracture is referred to as a comminuted fracture. Typically, this type of fracture occurs due to acute pressure or due to a powerful impact. Repairing comminuted fractures is extremely difficult.
- Buckle – Also known as an incomplete fracture or a torus, a buckle fracture happens when the bone begins to bend, rupture or strain, but no break occurs. Children are most susceptible to buckle fractures because their bones have not yet fully developed.
- Stress – Stress fractures, like buckle fractures, are partial breaks and are more common in children. The difference is that when a stress fracture occurs, one side of the bone fractures and the other side bends.
- Greenstick – A greenstick fracture occurs when a bone bends and cracks, instead of breaking completely into separate pieces. The fracture looks similar to what happens when you try to break a small, "green" branch on a tree.
- Oblique – These occur in situations where the bone breaks along the diagonal of the long axis. This kind of fracture is relatively rare but can happen in car wrecks if one bone gets trapped and another bone is twisted over the top of the trapped bone.
- Avulsion – This is when the bone and the soft tissue separate. Soft tissue refers to ligaments and tendons that join the bones to the muscles or join the bones to each other. Surgery is often necessary to resolve the serious complications of this type of fracture.
- Hairline – Hairline fractures are small cracks in the bone. Those who suffer hairline fractures may not be aware that they have this small break or crack and thus may not receive the medical treatment they need. As a result, the small crack can continue to grow and the fracture can become worse, resulting in the bone becoming weaker.
Sneaky Injuries to Watch Out for After a Car Accident
Some symptoms might occur right away, but others can develop in the weeks and months following an auto accident. These injuries may require surgery and can cause long-term disability.
- Knee Injuries: Often during a motor vehicle collision, a driver or passenger is thrown forward and will hit their knee on the dashboard. The result could be trauma to the knee, which can result in many different types of injuries, such as a shattered patella. Knee cartilage can also be damaged, causing a torn meniscus.
- Herniated Discs:Neck and back strains, generally referred to as whiplash, are common in car accidents. These injuries can be much more serious than just a mild strain. Sometimes the force of a collision causes the tissue between the vertebrae of the spine to rupture. This is called a “herniated disc.” A herniated disc can put pressure on and inflame nerves coming out of the spine, which can cause loss of feeling, and even loss of control of your muscles, typically in arms or legs.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries: If your head strikes something inside the car or if it is whipped violently back and forth in an auto accident, your brain can be impacted. This impact to the brain, called a “traumatic brain injury” (TBI) can cause long-term damage to brain function. These injuries are not always obvious right away. It could be months later that the injured person or his/her family may notice that he or she is becoming forgetful, or is undergoing a personality change.
- Shoulder Injuries: Because your seat belt wraps over one shoulder, much of the force from a car crash can be focused on that one shoulder when you are thrown forward by the impact. These twisting forces can cause many different injuries to the shoulder, ranging from deep bruising to severe tears of the shoulder ligaments that will require surgery.
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