By Francis M. Smith
Not only is your shoulder one of the most essential joints of the body, allowing you to engage in many important everyday tasks, it's also the most flexible joint. The ball-and-socket configuration of the shoulder allows it a very wide range of motion, enabling you to move your arm back and forth, up and down, and in a circular motion. However, the extreme flexibility of the shoulder joint comes at a cost: your shoulder is more vulnerable to injury than other, more limited joints. Injuries to the shoulder are common in accidents of any sort, from slip and fall accidents to car crashes, because of the natural reflex to put your hands out in front of you to brace against an impact and protect the rest of your body. A sudden impact or twisting force can damage the ligaments of your shoulder, resulting in a painful sprain and putting you at risk of further injury.
Ligaments are the flexible, fibrous tissues that connect one bone to another, allowing the joint to move while keeping it stable. When the ligaments of a joint are torn or damaged, this is called a sprain. Shoulder separation is a type of sprain that commonly results from slip and fall accidents; the ligaments connecting your clavicle (collar bone) to the upper part of your shoulder tear, allowing the clavicle to slide out of position and resulting in severe pain and inability to move your arm normally. In a similar way, if the ligaments securing the ball-and-socket joint of your shoulder (where the humerus, or upper arm bone, joins with the shoulder blade) become damaged, you run the risk of a dislocated shoulder in which the head of the humerus slips out of its socket.
Torn ligaments are intensely painful injuries that cause swelling, inability to move the joint normally, and misshapen or misaligned joints. The severity of the sprain determines the best treatment options; some torn ligaments respond well to non-invasive treatment methods, and most doctors will try these techniques first in all but the most drastic cases. Ice is applied to the site of the injury to reduce the swelling of the surrounding tissues, and the patient wears a sling or other bracing device that reduces the mobility of the shoulder joint temporarily to allow the torn ligaments to heal. Physical therapy generally follows, to ensure that the shoulder joint regains flexibility and strength. In some cases, however, the damage to the ligaments may be too severe to heal on its own, and surgical interventions are required to repair the torn ligaments and restore normal function to the shoulder.
Weakened or improperly healed torn ligaments can cause a condition known as recurrent instability, in which the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder becomes prone to repeated dislocations. This may be a sign that previous non-invasive attempts to heal the damaged ligaments were not entirely effective; surgical treatment is generally required to correct this condition and prevent subsequent dislocation injuries. Dislocated joints can be a serious medical problem, further damaging the ligaments and tendons associated with the joint as well as putting the nerves and blood vessels near the site of the injury at risk of damage.
Sprains and other soft tissue injuries are often considered by laypeople to be less serious than bone fractures, partly because mild sprains can be treated with only ice and rest – but severe sprains can cause lasting medical problems if not corrected, and may require surgery to restore normal function of the shoulder. When you file an injury claim after an accident resulting in torn ligaments in your shoulder, you may run into this bias from the insurance company, that your sprain isn't that serious and doesn't warrant extensive (and costly) medical treatment.
The insurer will probably require you to be examined by a doctor of their choosing, whose main interest is offering a medical opinion that will benefit the insurance company who pays his fee. This "medical expert" is likely to say that your injuries aren't as bad as your doctors say, and don't require additional treatment. He may even accuse you of exaggerating or faking your injury – this is a common tactic among insurance doctors, who are primed to see insurance fraud everywhere and are not interested in the medical recovery or well-being of the accident victims they examine.
Even if the insurance company doesn't outright accuse you of lying, they will try to push you to accept a small settlement before your medical treatment is finished – and if you agree, you can't seek further compensation if you incur more medical bills for the injury resulting from your accident if your torn ligaments need surgery. By working with an experienced personal injury attorney right from the start, you can protect yourself from these predatory tactics.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.