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. A couple of weeks ago, we went over one common type of soft tissue injury, strains. This time, we’re going to go over sprains. Sprains are another common type of soft tissue injury that can result in complications following a serious accident or incident.
According to the AAOS, “[a] sprain is a stretch and/or tear of a ligament, a strong band of connective tissues that connect the end of one bone with another. Ligaments stabilize and support the body’s joints. For example, ligaments in the knee connect the thigh bone with the shinbone, enabling people to walk and run.”
Like strains, sprains can range in severity and should be taken seriously. Sprains can be painful and take time to heal. As described by the AAOS, Sprains are classified by severity in the following way:
- Grade 1 sprain (mild): Slight stretching and some damage to the fibers (fibrils) of the ligament.
- Grade 2 sprain (moderate): Partial tearing of the ligament. There is abnormal looseness (laxity) in the joint when it is moved in certain ways.
- Grade 3 sprain (severe): Complete tear of the ligament. This causes significant instability and makes the joint nonfunctional.
In personal injury cases, we usually see sprains in fall cases where someone twists or turns his/her ankle, knee, or elbow in a way which stretches or tears the ligaments in those body parts. If you fall on someone else’s property, it’s important that you document your fall as discussed in our post about reporting falls. Even if you don’t think you are injured, it’s important that you document the fall and consider the information outlined in that post to preserve a claim.
Additionally, whiplash injury symptoms from a car accident can also be diagnosed as a “neck sprain”. 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 whiplash, be sure to remind them that it’s your neck and not theirs that was injured in the accident.
Issues with sprains in personal injury cases
- Sprains can cover up or mask other injuries: Sprains 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 or a sprain may think he just has a minor injury, when it’s very possible that 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 injury. Or, once the ligaments heal, then the pain is more noticeable in the person’s cervical spine, indicating a bone or disc injury. To avoid negatively impacting your case (and for good medical reasons), 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 sprain, 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 a lapse in treatment means that you did something to cause your injury that’s unrelated to the wreck. Even if the insurance company employees concede that the injury is related to your accident or fall, they may still argue that it was worsened because you didn’t obtain and receive recommended medical treatment.
- Sprains 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.
- 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 sprain or whiplash. The person may not go to the emergency room because he feels fine. However, after a few days the initial shock wears off and the person starts to develop pain in his/her neck and/or back and then goes to the emergency room or doctor for treatment, or decides not to 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 too soon before you get the whole picture of your medical health.
- Failing to document your fall may affect your ability to get compensated for a sprain. As discussed above, you should always document and report a fall. We have a whole post dedicated to why this is important. Even if you do not feel pain right away, make sure to always report your fall!
- Sprains, like whiplash injuries are serious and should not be dismissed/downplayed by insurance companies and their employees;
- Sprains 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 or a fall, 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, sprains are no laughing matter and should be taken seriously. Sprains 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 sprain or whiplash injury and want to discuss your options, do not hesitate to contact our office.