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The most common seat belt injuries and what to do about them

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Wearing a three-point seat belt can save your life. It is your best protection from life-threatening car accident-related injuries. In fact, since it was introduced in 1973, three-point seat belts have reduced the number of fatal auto accident injuries by 50%.

However, even though it can save your life, it can lead to various seat belt injuries. The type of injury depends on the direction of impact. A three-point seat belt or harness straps and secures the person’s torso to the car seat. It rests on the shoulder, chest, and lower abdomen near the hip. During a collision, the seat belt transfers the force of impact into the passenger and these attachment points become the site of blunt trauma. If the force of collision is strong enough, it can even injure underlying organs.

What are the different seat belt-related injuries?

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock has highlighted the common patterns in seat belt injuries as seen in auto accident patients:

Injury to the chest and shoulders

If you are wearing a seatbelt correctly, the chest and the breastbone are the direct points of impact in the event of a head-on collision. The breastbone and the ribs protect your lungs, heart, spleen, and the upper part of your liver, so any injury to this area may also affect these delicate organs.

In the rare event that the first and second rib get fractured from the shoulder harness, it can pierce major blood vessels (carotid and subclavian) and lead to severe bleeding.

What you should do:

If you feel any breathing difficulty or chest pain, you need to seek immediate medical intervention to rule out any fatal injuries.

Seat belt sign and seat belt syndrome

A seat belt sign is a characteristic bruising or abrasion across the chest and the abdomen where the seat belt made contact with the body. If the seat belt sign is present, there is a high likelihood of internal injuries.

On the other hand, Seat belt syndrome includes a seat belt sign with injury to the spine and the abdominal organs.

What you should do:

Seat belt sign may indicate internal organ damage and should never be overlooked. If you see a bruise forming, go to the nearest emergency department or call 911.

Injury to intra-abdominal organs

Unlike the organs in the chest, abdominal organs are not protected by bones (at least, not the front or the anterior portion). The force of impact can lead to intestinal injuries such as intestinal perforation or ruptured bowel and seromuscular tear.

What you should do:

The symptoms associated with an injury to the abdomen, soft tissues, and the underlying organs may not occur immediately. If you feel abdominal pain several hours or days after the accident, you still need to seek medical evaluation and treatment to prevent complications.

Injury to the bones and other musculoskeletal structures

Chance fractures are also known as seat belt fractures and are more common in lap-belts than in three-point belts. These result from forceful spine flexion (or bending of the spine towards the abdomen), followed by spine extension.

What you should do:

If you experience back pain after an auto accident, you should seek the advice of a medical professional, such as our Board Certified physician at our auto injury clinic. He will help to address the problem and prevent possible complications such as progressive kyphosis and spine deformity.

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Where can you visit our 3 auto injury clinic locations?

Dr. Escobar, our auto injury and pain management doctor, always tells his patients that even a minor car crash may cause certain injuries that you’re not aware of and, in the long run, may turn out to be serious.

Our compassionate and professional team will take care of you and make sure that you receive the help you need. Call our auto injury clinic at 954 322 8586 to schedule an appointment.

For your convenience, you can visit us in any of our three locations:

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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Hollywood, FL 33021
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