Motorcycle Accident Shoulder Injuries

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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Quick: What do NFL players and motorcycle riders have in common? If you answered “shoulder injuries”, you got it right.

Shoulder injuries are one of the most common injuries that bikers suffer in a road accident. According to the Hurt Report, broken shoulders were the third highest type of injury (22%), just behind lower extremity injuries (42%) and upper limb damage (33%).

Why are Shoulder Injuries Significant?

Shoulder injuries can be more complicated than they sound. This is because the shoulder region consists of three delicate parts: the clavicle or collarbone, the shoulder blade, and the upper arm bone. A fault in one part can easily affect the functions of the others.

A shoulder injury can result in severe immobilizing pain, reduced freedom of movement, and the inability to do basic tasks such as driving, washing, or even reaching up. The pain and disability associated with a broken shoulder can have a large impact on the victim and their family.

Shoulder injuries are also the third most common musculoskeletal complaint in the field of physiotherapy, regardless of the origin of the injury.

The 6 Types of Shoulder Injuries Faced by Riders

In general shoulder injuries are determined by the type of motorcycle accident, the force of the impact, and actions taken during the post-accident phase. These are the most common shoulder injuries in motorcycle crashes:

  1. Dislocated shoulder – This usually happens as a result of landing directly on the shoulder. A fall can wrench the acromioclavicular joint out of its place between the scapula and clavicle, resulting in a dislocated shoulder. In layman’s terms, the upper arm bone pops out of its socket in the shoulder blade.

    A dislocated shoulder can result in intense pain, a visibly deformed shoulder, and an inability to move the joint. It can also cause numbness, weakness, or muscle spams that increase the severity of the pain.

  2. Shoulder breakage or fracture – Like all bones in the body, the clavicle (collarbone), scapula (shoulder blade), or humerus (upper arm bone) can fracture or break under immense pressure or impact. When this happens, the victim may feel debilitating pain in the surrounding muscles, and movement of the shoulders and upper arm may be severely restricted.
  3. SLAP tear – The SLAP (Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior) is the cartilage surrounding the shoulder joint. A SLAP tear or lesion can result in dull, throbbing ache; difficulty sleeping on the shoulder; and loss of strength.
  4. Torn rotator cuff – The rotator cuff is the tendon that connects your upper arm to the shoulder joint, and is responsible for rotating and lifting the arm. A tear can significantly affect the function of the arm, such as being unable to lift objects or experiencing pain when moving or lying on the upper arm.
  5. Ligament, tendon or muscle injuries – There are four muscle-tendon groups that make up the shoulder, and 4 main ligaments. An injury in any one of them can cause pain, notable weakening, limited movement, and discomfort while doing daily tasks that involve the arm and shoulders. According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, riders 40 years old and above are at higher risk of injuring these areas in an accident.
  6. Frozen shoulder – A frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a condition where the shoulder joint experiences pain and stiffness. This happens when connective tissues in the shoulder joint develop scars due to trauma, making them thicker and tighter and affecting the shoulder’s motion. They can worsen over time before diminishing, and can take up to 3 years to go away.

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The Cost of Shoulder Injuries

As of 2016, the average medical cost for shoulder injuries in the US ranges from $6,500 to $41,300, while rotator cuff surgery ranges between $8,400 to $56,200.

Apart from medical expenses, the majority of indirect costs associated with shoulder injuries are due to reduced mobility. A study of patients who underwent a rotator cuff operation found that it took 11 months on average before the person could return to normal work duty.

Riders who are involved in a motorcycle crash that results in shoulder injuries are advised to consult a motorcycle accident attorney. A lawyer that specializes in this field can help claim compensation including:

  • Medical costs, from immediate care and surgery expenses to physical therapy, medication, and rehabilitation.
  • Lost wages, including benefits
  • Disability
  • Pain and suffering

How to Avoid Shoulder Injuries

  1. Wear the right safety gear
  • Dedicated motorcycle jackets can help cushion the impact through padded shoulders and the use of armor in the upper arm.
  • Gloves help maintain grip on the handlebars. According to the Hurt Report, the largest cause of shoulder injuries in motorcycle accidents is being catapulted topside over the handlebars (27%).
  • Reflective or luminous apparel also increases your visibility and reduces the chances of a head-on collision, lane change accident, or left turn collision.
  1. Assume the proper position
  • In the event of a fall, avoid hitting the ground with your shoulders, outstretched hands, or head. Roll with the impact to dissipate the kinetic energy instead of absorbing it on your shoulder.
  • Know where the impact protection on your gear is, so you can rely on them to absorb the blow and road contact should an accident occur.
  1. Ride safely
  • 88% of the riders who sustained shoulder injuries in the Hurt Report were wearing armored jackets. So defensive driving remains the best way to avoid shoulder damage.
  • Intoxicated driving can cause loss of balance and impaired motor coordination well below the BAC limit. When in doubt of your ability to ride, don’t risk it. Find an alternative ride home, or sleep it off.

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Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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