What are soft tissue injuries and how do you know if you have one?
Scenario #1 — You are stopped at a red light when the driver coming up behind you isn’t paying attention and rear ends your vehicle at a fairly high velocity, knocking you forward.
Scenario #2 — You are walking up a driveway of a business and slip and fall on an enormous piece of ice that formed under a dripping eavestrough.
Scenario #3 — You are riding your bicycle with your child and someone opens their car door right in front of you, sending you flying over the handlebars.
All three of these scenarios are perfectly plausible and happen all the time. Let’s ignore the more serious injuries that can result from these incidents for the moment and focus on the majority of them. In most cases, you fix your car, wipe off the ice from your backside or pick some asphalt out of your elbows. Basically though, you’re none the worse for wear.
Or so you assume.
The thing is… you should never assume. Soft tissue injuries can come up days after an accident, sometimes taking even longer to appear. If you haven’t taken steps to protect yourself and your interests, you could end up with financial, to say nothing of physical, distress.
What Is A Soft Tissue Injury?
A soft tissue injury is: “Soft-tissue injuries include bumps and bruises (contusions) and small tears of muscles (minor strains) or of ligaments and tendons near joints (minor sprains).” (Source). In the case of accidents, car or otherwise, the most common injury is whiplash.
Whiplash is a neck injury that results from head being suddenly and violently thrown into a backward (or side) movement, as a result of an impact. You can see how being rear ended while at a total stop by a vehicle going a good clip could cause whiplash!
“Whiplash and whiplash associated disorders (WAD) affects variable areas of the cervical spine, depending on the force and direction of impact as well as many other factors.” (Source)
In other words, it can be quite serious. There are levels of whiplash defined by the severity of symptoms ranging from level one (no pain) to level 4 (fracture or dislocation.)
Soft tissue injuries don’t come up on an x-ray and so they have to be diagnosed via the symptoms exhibited, including the level of pain and / or tenderness in the affected area, headache or other pain, and the ability of the injured person to maintain a certain range of motion of the affected area.
When the pain is severe, an x-ray could be warranted as a Level 4 whiplash, for example, involves not only a strain of the ligaments and tendons but can involve a fracture of the cervical spine. The same can be said for an soft tissue slip and fall ankle injury, which could be as simple as a pulled ligament or as serious as a fracture.
What To Do If You’ve Been In An Accident?
Whether an accident related to a vehicle or a slip and fall, there are steps you should take right away. I wrote about the three things you should if you’ve been in a car accident in my recent post: “Do These Things if You Have Been in a Car Accident. Right now.”
They aren’t all that different for other types of accidents: Call your doctor, call a lawyer and keep your receipts.
Whether you are in severe pain or perhaps just sore, you should seek medical attention. The longer term effects of soft tissue injury often don’t materialize in the aftermath of an accident because your body is still under shock.
While whiplash levels go from 0 (no pain) to 4 (fracture and / or dislocation), you aren’t a doctor and aren’t in a position to self-diagnose the situation. Like all things related to your health, the sooner you attend to them rather than leaving them to fester, the better and more consistent your treatment will be.
Can I Sue If I Have A Soft Tissue Injury?
That depends on the circumstances of the accident – vehicle related or slip and fall / personal injury and issues of fault determination. Regardless, you should make sure that you have seen a doctor and at least talked to a lawyer, in that order.
A minor injury may just need a few sessions of physiotherapy and a standard period to heal (8-12 weeks, on average). The injury may not in fact cause an essential element for lawsuits of this nature to proceed: chronic pain. In a case like this, your lawyer may shadow your case for a few months to see if there is a longer term (ie chronic) pain issue to deal with.
A major injury should be documented and reviewed from the get go. When in doubt, inform yourself! Knowledge and documentation are never bad things to have in your back pocket.