black and white photo of a woman from behind rubbing her right shoulder the center of the pain in her shoulder is highlighted in red

Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident: You Could Have a Case

Car accidents do not always result in the type of injuries that require an ambulance ride to the nearest emergency room. Sometimes car accident victims feel fine immediately after a crash. They walk away from the accident without realizing they may have sustained damage, such as a shoulder injury, that simply has not had time to present itself yet.

A lack of pain does not always equate to the absence of injury. The trauma of an accident releases adrenaline throughout the body that masks pain.

When car accident victims do not feel the pain, they sometimes decline immediate medical treatment from emergency responders who come to the scene of the accident. Hours later or within a few days of the accident, the pain and discomfort arrive.

This is a common occurrence with some shoulder injuries. If you’ve recently been in a car wreck, you might have thought “My shoulder is a little sore, but I’m okay. I just want to go home and rest.”

Rest is good, but small pains after an auto accident can often indicate a larger problem. Below we provide information about common shoulder injuries from car crashes, some specific signs that you might be suffering from a shoulder injury, and the actions you need to take going forward.

Common Types of Shoulder Injuries Due to Car Accidents

a physical therapist puts an arm sling on his patient to help treat her after a shoulder injury sustained in a car accident

When car accidents occur at moderate to high speeds, drivers and occupants are at risk for a shoulder injury. These injuries are often, but not always, a result of seat belt use. Seat belts prevent movement in a vehicle during an accident, which saves lives and greatly reduces the amount of severe and fatal brain injuries as well as preventing the most common serious injuries from car accidents or rear-end collisions.

Regardless of whether seat belt use or simply the location of impact during an accident causes a shoulder injury, some injuries are more common than others.

Your shoulder joint is the joint with the greatest range of motion of any joint in your body and damage to this part of your body can seriously impact your quality of life and ability to perform daily activities.

Some injuries may present themselves immediately after a wreck while others may take some time to show up or may only be diagnosed after you have had an x-ray. Some injuries can be treated with rest, ice, and some anti-inflammatory medication while others require painful surgeries to restore some of the function of your shoulder.

Here is a broad overview of the most common shoulder injuries due to car accidents:

Torn Rotator Cuff

Your rotator cuff is the collection of four muscles that stabilize your upper arm bone (humerus) where it meets the other two main bones of your shoulder: your shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle).

The impact of a car crash can tear one or more of the muscles or tendons that make up the rotator cuff.

Torn rotator cuffs are the most common shoulder injury from an auto accident. Some rotator cuff tears are mild and only require rest, ice, and physical therapy. Other rotator cuff injuries are too severe for therapy and need surgery.

After a rotator cuff injury, some people may experience a shoulder impingement which is when the shoulder blade pinches and pulls the tendons and muscles causing pain in your rotator cuff.

Shoulder Dislocation

Your shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. A dislocation occurs when your upper arm bone separates from the shoulder blade.

The impact of an accident exerts a strong force and sometimes a rotation that causes the dislocation. Doctors repair the dislocation by putting your arm bone back in the shoulder socket, but on rare occasions shoulder dislocations require surgery.

Shoulder Joint Tears or Labral Tears

The labrum is the fibrous tissue that reinforces the ball and socket joint of the shoulder. This piece of cartilage helps keep your upper arm bone locked in the socket.

The force of an accident may cause a tear in the labrum which can lead to a partial or complete shoulder dislocation.


Accident impacts can lead to one or more fractures in the upper arm bone, shoulder blade, or collarbone.

In many cases, doctors treat fractures without surgery, but with severe breaks, major displacement, or the absence of cartilage, surgery is necessary to repair the break(s).

Sometimes minor fractures go unnoticed because accident victims assume the pain will go away. When a broken shoulder doesn’t receive proper treatment, it can heal poorly and cause lifelong discomfort, arthritis, and other painful conditions.


A shoulder sprain is a type of soft tissue injury which occurs when the ligaments that surround the joint get stretched beyond their normal range of motion as a result of the impact of a car crash.

Sprains are typically minor damage to soft tissues, so with a little rest and ice, they often go away on their own. Yet, not treating a shoulder sprain can lead to further injury which can greatly impact your daily activities.

Symptoms and Signs You May Have a Shoulder Injury

diagram of the human shoulder highlighting the ball and socket joint

If you have been involved in an auto accident, let the paramedics who respond to the scene check your shoulder for potential injury. Do not ignore soreness or refuse medical treatment.

Let the emergency response teams know if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Difficulty moving your arm
  • Favoring your shoulder
  • Joint pain or pain from any type of arm or shoulder movement
  • Inability to move your shoulder
  • Bulge or lump near the collarbone or directly on the shoulder
  • Cramps or spasms
  • Tingling or numbness around your shoulder
  • Popping or cracking sounds
  • Stiff neck
  • Swelling, weakness, and tenderness

Even if you are not experiencing shoulder pain immediately following the accident, you should still visit a doctor. Some serious injuries may not present themselves until some time after the crash and a full account of your accident injuries, medical bills for necessary medical care, and treatment plan is important for a personal injury claim.

What to Do if You Sustain a Shoulder Injury from a Car Accident | Free Consultation with the Miley Legal Group

close up photo of a large scar on a woman's shoulder from a shoulder injury after a car accident

If you suspect you have sustained a shoulder injury in an accident, or any other injury (such as whiplash), seek medical attention immediately. Minor bruising or pain can indicate a much larger problem and getting the proper treatment for your shoulder can prevent long-term damage.

Unfortunately, even getting prompt medical attention for your shoulder injury does not always prevent significant harm. Once someone suffers a shoulder dislocation, they are more prone to endure one again.

Similarly, torn rotator cuffs, severe sprains, and fractures can lead to chronic pain and discomfort, even after surgery. Scar tissue, damaged and missing cartilage, and general weakness in the shoulder can lead to future breaks. Car accident victims who suffer shoulder injuries are also at risk for arthritis, which can be painful and debilitating.

If you have suffered a shoulder injury as a result of a car wreck, you may be entitled to compensation. It is in your best interest to contact a personal injury lawyer regarding your case to see how they may be able to help you.

An experienced injury attorney can investigate the accident and your injuries, evaluate the legal merits of your claim, provide you with legal advice, negotiate a settlement if possible, and take your case to trial if necessary. Recovering compensation through a lawsuit will not turn back the clock, but it can help pay for the best treatment possible for your shoulder.

The skilled personal injury team at Miley Legal Group has extensive experience representing injured car accident victims, including those who have suffered shoulder injuries. Contact our law firm today online or at (304)745-2636 for a free case evaluation. One of our team members can review your case and determine your eligibility for compensation.

Author Bio

Tim Miley is the Founder of Miley Legal Accident Injury Lawyers, a West Virginia personal injury law firm he formed in 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in personal injury law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of personal injury cases, including car accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, brain injuries, wrongful death, and other personal injury matters.

Tim received his Juris Doctor from Duquesne University and is a member of the West Virginia State Bar and the Harrison County Bar Association. He has helped his clients win more than $10 million in personal injury verdicts and settlements and has further served the people of West Virginia by filling legislative roles in the state’s government since 2004.

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