Bone Fractures After a Car Accident

Woman in pain from a fracture after a car accident

No matter how careful you are, car accidents can happen in a matter of seconds. With more than six million collisions in the US each year—an average of more than 18,000 accidents daily—it isn’t surprising that many of these high-impact wrecks lead to bone breaks. Even if you’re able to get up and walk away from the site of the accident, you may have sustained injuries. Bone fractures will need immediate medical attention. 

What Are the Common Signs of a Fracture?

Some signs of a fracture are easy to spot, such as a compound break that's torn through the skin. Others aren't so easy. Here are a few common signs of a fracture:

  • Pain
  • Trouble standing or putting weight on an area
  • Swelling
  • Inability to move an area, such as bend arm or rotate the ankle

If you think you have a fracture, you need to see a professional. 

What Causes Fractured Bones in a Car Accident? 

When you're riding in your car at 45 mph, it isn't only the car moving at that speed, your body is too. When you're in an accident, you're moving forward at 45 mph while the dashboard and seats in front of you have already stopped, so you impact them at more than 40 mph. 

The impact is one of the largest causes of broken bones in a car accident. The second largest cause is crush injuries if the accident is severe enough. 

Common Bone Breaks in a Car Accident

There are more than 200 bones in the human body, and any of them can become fractured in a car accident. You don't want a broken bone anywhere, but some can be more serious than others. Here are some of the most common broken bones in a car accident:

Arm Fractures

It's instinct to throw your arms out to brace yourself during a car accident or to block the airbag as it deploys. Unfortunately, this leads to arm fractures when the impact occurs, and you hit the dashboard or seat in front of you. It can be a hairline fracture in a car accident or a compound fracture. 

Wrist Fractures

If you place your hands on the dashboard or the steering wheel during a collision, it's easy for the force of the impact to snap the bones in your wrist. You'll probably notice swelling and be unable to move your wrists when this happens. 

Tibia/Fibula Fractures

The tibia and fibula are the two bones found in the bottom half of your leg above the ankle. It isn't unusual for these bones to become crushed between the dashboard and seat, especially when you're sitting in the front seat of the car during an accident. 

Femur Fractures

This is the bone located in your thigh, and it's also one of the thickest and strongest bones in the body. However, the impact during a car accident can cause a femur fracture, typically if you brace yourself before impact or if the car crumples into itself during the accident. 

Clavicle Fractures

The clavicle, or more commonly known as the collarbone, is often broken during a car accident because your seatbelt crosses it. As the belt tightens and your weight moves forward, this delicate bone is easily broken. It's harder to treat this type of fracture and might require physical therapy to fully heal. 

Rib Fractures

Rib fractures in car accidents are typically a result of the seatbelt or the car crumpling during the collision. A rib fracture can be serious as the bone might pierce the lungs. If the break is bad enough, it may require surgical repair. Otherwise, rest and limited movement are prescribed. 

Back Fractures

Spinal compression fractures in a car accident can happen, especially if there's a crush injury due to the car crumpling onto itself. Back and spinal fractures can be serious and lead to the inability to walk. These injuries might require surgery to treat along with a period of immobility while the swelling goes down.

Hip Fractures

The hip serves as a connection between your thigh bone and the pelvic bones and helps you turn and twist. Hip fractures in car accidents are common, although you can also fracture a hip during a fall. A hip fracture may require surgery to install plates, screws, and other hardware to help you regain your mobility. You’ll likely need time with a physical therapist, too. 

Pelvis Fractures

Impact or a crash injury can cause a pelvic fracture during a car accident, although they're more common if you get into an accident while riding a motorcycle. You may require bed rest and extensive physical therapy to regain your mobility. It's also possible that you may need to use crutches or other mobility supports for a while. 

Face and Skull Fractures

Impact with an airbag can fracture facial bones in a car accident. Skull fractures are also a possibility, especially when you aren't wearing your seatbelt. A skull fracture can lead to brain injuries, which can be fatal. In many cases, the less serious face and skull fractures heal over time with proper medical care. 

What Does a Broken Bone Feel Like?

There are more than 200 bones in the human body, and any of them can become fractured in a car accident. You don't want a broken bone anywhere, but some can be more serious than others. Here are some of the most common broken bones in a car accident:

A hairline fracture might be small enough that you don't feel anything at all. That said, you can’t really miss a compound fracture. It breaks the skin and causes a lot of pain. Other signs you might have a broken bone include:

  • Swelling, bruising or tenderness near the impacted area
  • Pain when you place weight on or near the impacted area, or when you move that body part
  • Hearing a creak or a snap as the injury happens, or when you move that body part after the accident
  • Broken skin or altered structure to the area, where it looks different than it did before the accident

If you have any swelling or pain after a car accident, or experience these symptoms, it's essential that you seek treatment right away. 

How Are Bone Breaks Diagnosed? 

After doing an evaluation and talking to you about your symptoms, your doctor will request x-rays or an MRI to determine if there's a bone fracture from your car accident. These are the best methods for revealing and diagnosing fractures.  

How Are Broken Bones Treated?

Some broken bones are easily treated with casts that hold the bone in place while it heals. However, some bones can't be placed in casts, such as the clavicle, pelvis, and ribs. These bones require bed rest or immobility from another method in order to heal. Severe fractures may require surgery. In those cases, the surgeon will use screws, plates, and other devices that hold the bone together while it heals and lend the bone strength after the operation.   

What Happens if You Don't Fix a Fracture? 

If you don't follow your doctor's advice for treatment, you’re at risk for more severe problems down the road. A key concern is that the bones won't knit back together properly. This could lead to prolonged and continuing pain, mobility issues, or other long-term issues. For instance, to correct the problem later on, you might need to break the bone again.  

Get the Alexander Outpatient Advantage

It's critical to make sure your fracture is treated right the first time. Our experts at Alexander Orthopaedics are ready to work together and create a recovery plan that meets your needs. From the stressful hours immediately following your car accident to your check-ups as you get moving again, our team is ready to help. If you or someone you care about has recently been involved in an accident, please contact us right away to learn more or schedule an appointment.