Soft-tissue injuries are injuries that occur to muscles, tendons, tissues, and ligaments, as compared to injuries like fractures and breaks, which involve breaking or fracturing a bone. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (“AAOS”), soft-tissues injuries fall into two different categories: acute and overuse injuries. For personal injury cases, people usually suffer “acute” injuries in car wrecks, falls, or other traumas. Overuse injuries are uncommon in personal injury cases, but we do see them regularly in workers’ compensation cases where an individual has developed carpal tunnel due to repeated work activities.
In a number of personal injury cases involving car accidents or slip and falls, clients will have some diagnosis of a soft-tissue injury. Many insurance company adjusters will downplay a soft-tissue injury as being less serious than a fracture, break, or other trauma that can be seen on an x-ray. However, soft-tissues injuries can be serious and are painful, regardless of the degree of severity. There are a number of soft-tissues injuries that can develop as a result of a personal injury. The basic types of soft-tissue injuries are strains and sprains. This week, we’ll go over strains.
Explaining Soft Tissue Injuries: Part 1 – Strains
According to the AAOS, “[a] strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon.” Tendons are “fibrous cords of tissue that connect muscles to the bone.” Sometimes strains can be nothing more than an overstretched tendon or muscle. However, strains can be severe as well. Some strains can involve partial or full tears of a muscle or tendon. Considering that these tendons connect your muscle to your bone, any strain of the tendon can mean other parts of the body are affected as well.
In car accident cases, we typically see strains (or sprains) diagnosed as “whiplash injuries” to the neck or cervical spine. In these cases, the treating doctor will refer to the injury as either a whiplash injury or a neck sprain or strain. Whiplash injuries are serious and are painful, despite what an insurance adjuster may tell you.
For instance, Mayo Clinic describes whiplash as “a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip”. Additionally, “[w]hiplash typically occurs when a person’s head is forcefully and quickly thrown backward and then forward. This motion can injure bones in the spine, disks between the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and other tissues of the neck.”
Mayo Clinic lists the following as signs and symptoms of a whiplash injury:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Worsening of pain with neck movement
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull
- Tenderness or pain in shoulder, upper back or arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
As you can see, a number of symptoms can develop as a result of a whiplash injury. The next time an insurance adjuster tries to downplay your whiplash injury, be sure to remind them that it’s your neck and not theirs that was injured in the accident.
Issues with Strains and Whiplash Injuries in Personal Injury Cases
- Strains can cover up or mask other injuries: Strains and whiplash injuries can take weeks, months, and even years to recover from. One of the major issues associated with these types of injuries is that the pain may mask or distract from other injuries that the person has. For instance, someone who is dealing with the pain associated with whiplash may think he just has a minor muscle injury in his neck, when it’s very possible that when the whiplash symptoms goes away he realizes that he has shoulder pain that is a strain, sprain, or a tear from the same wreck or fall that initially went undiagnosed or was masked by the whiplash pain. Or, once the muscles and tendons heal in the person’s neck, then the pain is more noticeable in the person’s cervical spine, indicating an injury to the bone or discs. To avoid these issues (or at least attempt to avoid them) in your case, always follow up with medical treatment as explained in #2.
- Failing to follow prescribed treatment can negatively affect your case: If you are diagnosed with a strain or whiplash injury, it is important that you continue to follow up with your doctor on a timely basis and follow all advised medical treatment such as resting, icing, physical therapy, or chiropractic care. Failing to follow prescribed medical treatment can negatively affect your case because the insurance company adjuster and/or insurance attorney will argue that your failure to treat or lapse in treatment means that you did something to cause your injury that’s unrelated to the wreck. Even if they concede the injury is related, they will argue it was made worse because you failed to properly treat or follow up with your doctor.
- Strains can be hard to diagnose: If you are injured and go to the hospital, then you may receive x-rays. However, a doctor cannot typically see a soft-tissue injury on an x-ray and you may not know if you have a soft tissue injury or how severe the injury is. That’s why it is important to always follow up with your doctor as outlined in #2. Some strains are only seen through other types of diagnostic imaging and/or through exploratory surgeries.
- You may not feel pain right away after a car accident or fall: The initial shock and rush of adrenaline after a wreck or fall may cause someone to not immediately feel the pain from a strain or whiplash. The person may not go to the emergency room because they feel fine. After a few days, the initial shock wears off and the person starts to develop pain in their neck and/or back and only then does the person go to the emergency room or doctor for treatment, or decides to “tough it out” and not go at all. Failing to treat or waiting to treat can have a negative impact on a personal injury case because the insurance company adjuster or insurance company attorney will argue that your injury occurred from something other than the car accident or fall, because there are no medical records immediately after the accident or fall to support your claims.
- The insurance company may downplay your injury and convince you to settle quick: Another issue associated with soft-tissue injuries is that an insurance company adjuster may downplay your strain and offer you money to resolve your case before your pain goes away. Sensing an opportunity to get out of the case early for cheap, the adjuster will tell you that since you “just have a strain” that you should take a settlement and resolve your case. The problem with this approach is that you have not completely healed and do not know if your injuries are serious. You only have one opportunity to get compensation for your injuries — make sure you do not resolve you case before you get the whole picture of your medical health.
- Strains, like whiplash injuries are serious and should not be dismissed/downplayed by insurance companies and their employees;
- Strains take time to heal and you should not resolve your personal injury case before you are healed;
- You should consider going to the emergency room or your primary care physician if you were in a car accident, even if you feel no pain. Better to be safe than sorry!
- You should follow all prescribed medical treatment and attend all prescribed medical appointments.
As you can see, strains are no laughing matter and should be taken seriously. Strains like whiplash injuries take time to heal and may result in prolonged medical treatment. Do not let an insurance adjuster rush you into a settlement while you take the time you need to heal. If you are diagnosed with a strain or whiplash injury and want to discuss your options, do not hesitate to contact our office.