Accidents and Rotator Cuff Tears
Your rotator cuff is made up of four muscles in your shoulder joint (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) which attach close to the top of your humerus (arm bone) by various tendons. The muscles are critically important in the stability, movement and function of your shoulder.
Acute or trauma induced rotator cuff tears often happen in motor vehicles, bicycle and pedestrian accidents. The impact from car accidents, the locking of seatbelts, your body being propelled into the steering wheel or dash, or falling with outstretched arms can do extensive damage to your shoulder joint, causing extensive rotor cuff tearing.
What is a torn rotator cuff – and how does it happen?
In Canada, ultrasound imaging is the most widely used diagnostic technique of rotator cuff injury, with accuracy between 87% and 96%. Once found on imaging, rotator cuff tears are normally described by physicians as either partial-thickness tears or full-thickness, depending on the amount damage to the muscles & tendons.
Partial-thickness tears are a common source of shoulder pain and dysfunction in accident victims. These types or tears can either be asymptomatic or they can cause pain and functional impairment which can affect your activities of daily living.
A full rotator cuff tear is when the tendon tears of pulls right off the bone. After serious trauma, such as being in a motorcycle accident or a bicycle accident, your rotator cuff tendon can separate from the shoulder bone – causing a hole in your tendon. This is called an “acute tear” which is normally the result of high impact injury to the shoulder and the straining of the tendon beyond its normal limits.
In addition and equally important to know is that the rotator cuff muscles can weaken with age and cause accident victims to be more susceptible to injury. As we get older, our rotator cuff gradually wears down over time, loses its blood supply and overall muscle resilience – thus increasing our potential for injury.
Torn Rotator Cuffs, Injury, Limitations and Pain
Each part of the rotator cuff helps our body with different movement – in particular, mostly with:
- Flexion and extension – meaning moving your arm forward or backwards away from your body like a karate chop;
- Abduction – meaning moving your arm sideways away from the mid-line of your body, as if you were flapping your wings or pointing sideways;
- Internal and external rotation – meaning if you stick your elbow into your body and move your hand away from your body like a goalie catching a hockey puck.
If you suffer an accident related rotator cuff tear, then these basic anatomical movements, depending on the tear and location, would become extremely difficult. You would no doubt suffer pain over the shoulder and upper arm area when performing moment and activity – particularly while performing overhead type activities.
Accident victims that suffer torn rotator cuffs would normally notice increased instability, as well as increased pain and weakness in the shoulder joint. There would be an obvious decrease in a victim’s ability to use his or her shoulder for their usual daily activities or work if physical demands are involved. You would typically notice difficulty sleeping on your side, or shoulder, and you would have a scientifically limited range of active motion. You would also notice:
- Difficulty with repetitive movement;
- Difficulty with lifting overhead;
- Difficulty with reaching overhead;
- Difficulty with carrying such things as cases of water or luggage;
- Difficulty in lifting objects too quickly;
- Pain in the outside of the shoulder and upper arm, most while performing overhead activities;
- Difficulty raising your arm overhead;
- Difficulty holding your arm out from your body;
- Difficulty performing normal tasks;
- Decreased strength;
- Limited range of motion;
- Sleeping difficulties when pressure is placed on the shoulder.
How is an accident related rotator cuff injury treated?
Torn rotator cuffs can be treated non-operatively or with surgery. Unfortunately, full thickness tears do not really heal by themselves. However, it is possible for full or partial thickness tears to stabilize leaving the shoulder joint with acceptable comfort and function. Your orthopedic surgeon may prescribe medication and exercise. If there is too much trauma, unacceptable pain or instability, the alternative is surgical repair – which in the long run, gives people the ability to regain much of their lost comfort and function in shoulders joint. Normally rotator cuff surgery won’t make the shoulder as good as it was before since, quite often, the tendons and muscles around the shoulder have also been weakened – but normally the long term benefits can outweigh non-surgical options.
Accident related frozen shoulder and rotator cuff injuries
Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a very painful condition that results in the loss of motion in the shoulder. A frozen shoulder can develop slowly after a motorcycle accident or car accident as the joint becomes inflamed, stiff and sometimes immobile when the connective tissue surrounding the joint thickens and tightens. Frozen shoulder can also develop after a shoulder has been immobilized for a period of time due to rotator cuff surgery. Your physician or surgeon will more likely than not want you to start moving your shoulder soon after injury or surgery prevent frozen shoulder.
Frozen shoulder can be treated non-operatively or can be manipulated under anesthesia. Often times accident victims that develop frozen should injuries will be prescribed physical therapy and perhaps anti-inflammatory or steroidal injections. If this does not work, you may unfortnately have to undergo a second shoulder surgery wherein your orthopedic surgeon would break up the scar tissue by forcing your shoulder to move and stretch. This could possibly release the tightening of the shoulder and help with your range of motion.
Accident Related Cuff Tears? Our Hamilton Personal Injury Lawyers can help
Because rotator cuff tears are often caused by repetitive use, overuse or by high impact activity, insurance companies routinely deny or delay these types of claims when they result from an accident. Insurance companies and orthopedic surgeons paid for medical reports by insurance companies will also often argue that rotator cuff injuries are injuries that happen due to continuous repetitive movement rather than an injury caused in a crash or fall.
From out experience, rotator cuff tears quite often happen when accident victims are hit by a moving vehicle, if and when their body hits the pavement, or if the victim falls with outstretched arms. If you have suffered a serious and permanent shoulder injury and you need to undergo surgical rotator cuff repair, then you will possibly be entitled to compensation for lost wages and future care and rehabilitation care costs outside of OHIP. If you were involved in a motor vehicle wreck, then you will more likely than not have accident benefit converage to assist with the payment of your rehabilitation. If you slipped and fell, you may or may not have medical benefits through a group benefit plan at work to assist with your therapy. Remember, in most cases, the recovery from rotator cuff surgery is normally long, extensive and painful. You will more likely then not require extensive rehabilitation surgery outside what your group benefits can offer you – causing you major out-of-pocket expenses.
Working with an experienced Hamilton personal injury lawyer will certainly improve your chances of successfully recovering compensation for your injuries. If you have injured your rotator cuff tendons in an accident and you would like to discuss your case with a specialized Hamilton accident lawyer dedicated to victim rights, we welcome your contact for a free no obligation consultation. Our lawyers represent personal injury victims in Hamilton and all throughout Ontario. Please fill out a contact form or call us at 905-333-888 today and we will be happy to schedule a free, no obligation consultation today and help advise you of your legal options available for pursuing compensation. We never charge upfront fees.