Car or automobile accidents can majorly impact a person’s body and emotional well-being. They can lead to temporary or long-term chest pain due to injuries.
Severe accidents can cause disability or even be fatal. However, even minor accidents can injure the chest or other body areas.
This article reviews some causes of chest pain and associated symptoms after an accident. It also explains diagnosis, treatment, outlook, and when to contact a doctor.
Motor vehicle accidents account for about
A fractured sternum can cause:
- generalized chest pain that may mimic other conditions
- shortness of breath
- pain when coughing or taking a deep breath
- swelling or deformity
An automobile accident can also cause bruised or broken ribs.
Left untreated, broken ribs
- taking a deep breath
Minor accidents can cause bruising of the chest muscles or cause them to strain. Symptoms may include:
- dull to sharp pain
- pain when breathing
According to a 2020 article, 20–50% of all people who seek primary care doctors for chest pain have musculoskeletal pain, such as from muscular strains or bruising.
A car accident can cause bruising on the lungs or result in a punctured or collapsed lung. A collapsed lung
Symptoms may include:
- trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- chest pain on the side of the affected lung
- bluish skin
- decreased breathing sounds
- an increased heart rate
Blunt cardiac injury, formally known as a myocardial contusion, describes an injury to the heart due to blunt force. These injuries range in severity from silent arrhythmias to fatal cardiac ruptures.
After an automobile accident, doctors often try to determine if there was a steering wheel impact.
A doctor will likely assess a person’s cardiovascular risk after an accident to help determine their risk of experiencing a heart attack or other potentially fatal complications.
Sometimes, first responders may transport a person to an emergency room immediately following a car accident. There, doctors will likely try to assess the person’s injuries and determine if any damage occurred to the chest.
A person should consider seeing a doctor following a minor accident if they:
- experience severe pain in the chest that does not go away
- have trouble breathing
- do not notice improvements after a few days
Heart attack signs may be difficult to differentiate from pain due to injuries from a car accident. However, if a person experiences symptoms such as those below, they should seek emergency medical services immediately.
Is it a heart attack?
Heart attacks occur when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart. Symptoms include:
- chest pain, pressure, or tightness
- pain that may spread to arms, neck, jaw, or back
- nausea and vomiting
- sweaty or clammy skin
- heartburn or indigestion
- shortness of breath
- coughing or wheezing
- lightheadedness or dizziness
- anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
If someone has these symptoms:
- Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
- Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
If a person stops breathing before emergency services arrive, perform manual chest compressions:
- Lock fingers together and place the base of hands in the center of the chest.
- Position shoulders over hands and lock elbows.
- Press hard and fast, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute, to a depth of 2 inches.
- Continue these movements until the person starts to breathe or move.
- If needed, swap over with someone else without pausing compressions.
Use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) available in many public places:
- An AED provides a shock that may restart the heart.
- Follow the instructions on the defibrillator or listen to the guided instructions.
Diagnosis of chest issues related to a car accident may vary. However, it will generally involve a combination of physical examinations and imaging tests, such as an X-ray or CT scan.
A doctor will also likely ask the person about what they may have struck or what might have struck them during the accident. For example, a steering wheel impact, more frequent in accidents involving older cars without airbags, is a
Doctors will also typically ask about the severity of pain and areas that hurt more than others. They usually perform a physical examination to check for tender areas and order tests as needed to assess broken ribs, damage to the lungs or airways, and issues with the heart. These tests may also include an ECG.
Recovery and treatment following a car accident vary based on injury severity and associated complications.
A person with bruised ribs or muscles will likely only need limited care, including:
- cold therapy
- pain medications
In cases of blunt cardiac trauma, a doctor will likely recommend
Bone or muscle injuries may require a combination of prescription pain relievers, physical therapy, and other therapies.
Older individuals or those at higher risk of complications
A person’s outlook will vary significantly based on the severity of the accident and the injuries they sustained.
Those at risk of cardiac events, such as a heart attack, often have the least favorable outlook. In contrast, those who experience injured muscles or minor breaks alone often have the best.
Most people can recover from chest injuries sustained in a car accident with proper care. However, a person’s doctor or care team can offer individualized advice regarding their outlook.
Chest pain following a car accident may be due to surface injuries, broken ribs, or more severe injuries and complications, such as a collapsed lung or blunt heart injury. Older people have a higher chance of complications, such as heart attack, and may require additional monitoring.
A person’s treatment will vary based on the type of injuries they sustain. It is best for people to discuss their outlook with a doctor or care team, who will help determine their treatment plan and overall recovery process.