Upper Back and Shoulder Blade Pain After Car Accident
A common symptom after a car accident is pain in the upper back or along the shoulder blades.
Auto Accidents Cause Abnormal Forces on the Spine That Damages Tissue
A seemingly mild rear end car crash can cause several G's of force into your spine. As your vehicle is struck, your seat back moves with your vehicle and compresses against your middle back. This force pushes in on your natural middle back curve and causes it to flatten causing strain of muscles and ligaments of the mid back and rib cage. This also causes your head to move upward, a phenomenon known as "telescoping" so that your neck stretches up and often over the head restraint causing neck damage. The quickness in which the back is subjected to this trauma results in damage that can be significant despite modest damage to your vehicle.
The muscles of the upper and middle back are extensive; there are layers upon layers of muscles in this region of your spine. Any number of muscles may be over stretched and injured, also known as a "strain." Muscle injuries can be painful, especially if you get secondary muscle spasms; a protective mechanism of the body to lock up the back to prevent further damage. The good thing about muscle injuries is that they are generally the fastest to heal and can often heal completely as muscle tissue repairs itself by repairing/regrowing new muscle cells.
Like the muscles, ligaments of the upper and mid back and even the chest and ribs can be overstretched and damages resulting in a "sprain." The role of ligaments in your body is very important. They are responsible for keeping two bones together to form a joint. Without properly intact ligaments, a joint cannot function properly and will begin to deteriorate and osteoarthritis sets in. Since ligaments cannot regrow, repair is by using a different kind of tissue known as scar tissue. This is not as flexible, as stable or a s strong as original ligament tissue therefore the function of the joint will not be the same as before the injury. For this reason, injuries to the ligaments are always a permanent injury.
Joint Malfunction (Subluxation)
Because the spine is subjected to abnormal loading, the muscles and ligaments protecting the spinal joints often fail and allow the spinal bones or vertebrae to move too much and become damaged or misaligned. This leads to malfunction between the individual spinal bones. In the middle back this can also cause misalignment of the sternum, collar bones and/or ribs. This malfunction irritates the spinal nerves causing pain and malfunction to the areas supplied downstream from the affected nerve(s). Chiropractors call this intervertebral joint malfunction a "subluxation." Moderate to severe subluxations are found in areas where ligaments have been damaged and are usually painful. Milder subluxations can be painless and hidden, but with continued joint malfunction will eventually surface as painful areas weeks or even months later. A Doctor of Chiropractic is the only health care professional specifically trained to detect and correct subluxations.
The thoracic spine (upper and middle back area) is fairly well protected by the rib cage, so injuries to the discs between the vertebrae is less common here. Disc injuries can however occur if impact is hard enough, the impact is a submarine impact where the striking vehicle goes under the victims vehicle causing force to shoot up the seat rather than forwards and backwards, an out of position occupant as in you're leaning forward to change the radio when you're hit and other factors. A herniated disc can cause localized back pain or if it presses out into the nerves can cause pain to shoot out to the ribs.
Spinal Fractures, Rib Fractures
These injuries are possible, but not common. They usually result form very high impacts or front end impact where the body is violently thrown into the seat belt or steering wheel.
An often overlooked and misunderstood cause of upper back or shoulder blade pain actually comes from the neck. The joints of the neck can be damaged in an auto accident; the joints of the neck refer pain into the shoulder blade. An injured disc in the neck will often refer pain into the center of the upper back. For these reasons, your car accident doctor needs to be able to distinguish between upper back or shoulder blade pain caused by an injury to the thoracic spine or if it's a referred pain from above in the neck.
The pain, as you have read, can come from many sources. The important thing after a car accident is to have a doctor who specializes in car accident trauma examine you and find out which tissues are damaged and get the proper care to relieve your painful problem.
If you've suffered a car accident and need help, call our office immediately at (714) 938-0575 for an urgent appointment.