What To Do When You Have Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident?

Dr. Carlos Hinojosa

Dr. Carlos Hinojosa


The shoulders are particularly sensitive and flexible as they enable the loose mobilization of arms, head, and neck. Much of the weight we carry on our arms and back is also reflected in our shoulders

We use them for almost any daily task, from writing by hand to brushing our hair. That’s why when you carry more stuff in the shopping basket, it’s common that you feel discomfort in your shoulders more than in other joints.

Shoulder pain is normal after a motorcycle collision or car accident. When we hold on to the steering wheel/handlebars or when the car seat belt restrains us in the seat, the shoulders take most of the blow’s impact.

General causes of shoulder pain

In patients who don’t have an injury, this condition is related to excessive and/or repetitive activity. Poorly executed exercise or heavy lifting can lead to various syndromes such as bursitis, tendinitis, or rotator cuff inflammation.

People who spend a lot of time sitting or standing can also suffer from pain in their shoulders and, additionally, in their back or neck.

This is mostly because of their poor posture. The extra strain from a forced position causes the muscles to contract, causing referred pain (such as a neck’s herniated disc) or a feeling of tension (muscle strain)

Shoulder pain can also be related to stress, as many people somatize emotions throughout the body, or even to bad nights’ sleep. Most of these cases improve once the muscles in the shoulders and neck are loosened with enough rest or massage.

Another possible cause of discomfort is due to age. From the age of 30 (with the highest incidence between 45 and 50), calcium accumulates in the supraspinatus tendon, causing intense pain and the inability to move the shoulders and arms. This is known as shoulder calcifications.

Is shoulder pain normal after a car accident?

In an accident scenario, two opposing forces (the speed of the vehicle and the impact of the hit) cause the human body to forcefully rebound. This sudden, intense movement is absorbed by muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, which can result in significant trauma without the victim being aware of it at the time.

The shoulders are subjected to monumental forces after a side or frontal blow. They’re usually get hit by the arms that slow down the involuntary forward movement while holding on to the steering wheel. Likewise, the shoulders absorb the energy of the seat belt jolt that clings to the body in the seat, minimizing the risk of being thrown out or hitting the steering wheel, door, or cabin. If you don’t use the seat belt, the shoulders are the first to hit the door when the collision is from the side.

In that sense, shoulder pain after a car accident can have several causes:

  • Direct contusions that cause bruising and swelling.
  • Due to their flexibility, shoulders can stretch and contract after absorbing the energy of the impact on the arms, neck, and back. As a result, ligaments and tendons can be severely damaged (sprains, torn rotator cuff)
  • If the muscles contract, they may compress or tear the nerves near the spinal cord (brachial plexus injury)
  • Dislocation of the bones that make up the shoulder
  • Separation of the clavicle from the acromion (aka. acromioclavicular joint).
  • Proximal fractures to the humerus, clavicle, or neck.
  • Frozen shoulder, which compromises mobility.

How do you know if you have a shoulder injury?

Not all shoulder ailments are directly related to an injury. Sometimes it’s just a normal contraction, especially if you haven’t suffered from a sudden movement, fall, or direct blow. However, you should never wait until your shoulders are chronically painful to see a physician.

Because of the complexity of shoulder, injuries are usually not diagnosed until the damage becomes more complicated, and the patient suffers limitations in strength and mobility. For this reason, it’s always advisable to see a chiropractor who understands the mechanism of shoulder injuries and pain, especially after an accident.

Most common symptoms of shoulder injuries

Although it may seem obvious, a shoulder problem is accompanied by several symptoms that aren’t always just pain. After a moderate or severe injury, many patients experience:

  • Edema (or swelling)
  • Hematomas (or bruising) related to force trauma
  • Lack of movement either from a broken bone, muscle damage, or sensation loss.
  • Tingling due to neurological injury.
  • An abrupt change in temperature from lack of blood flow due to injury or infection

What to do if you suspect a shoulder injury

Many clinical cases are relieved without the need for surgery. Tightness or spasms of the upper trapezius in the shoulder, dislocations or poor mechanics of the neck vertebrae mimic more complex injuries that are relieved with chiropractic treatment, without the need for intervention of the scalpel. Most injuries after a motor vehicle collision will heal with rest and immobilization.

But when it comes to a more intricate joints such as the shoulder and spine, medical attention and Chiropractic care is essential to avoid long-term damage. If a patient has any symptoms of a shoulder injury, waiting for pain relief or for the shoulder to fix itself is not the answer. Without treatment from a specialist, the symptoms will worsen, and the damage may be irreparable to some degree. Remember: no home treatment should replace medical diagnosis!

How to find a chiropractor near me or nearby

If you live around Vancouver, Washington, NE Portland, or Gresham, Oregon, we can help!

Located near Stark Avenue, we treat most muscle injuries or problems related to motor vehicle accidents around the Portland, Vancouver Washington, and Gresham Oregon area.

Find us at the following address 205 NE 181 Ave. Portland, Oregon. 97230 or call us at 503-512-7076.

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