Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident: Common Causes, Treatment Options, and Recommendations

The car accident you were in last week has left you with severe shoulder pain. It’s difficult to sleep, your range of motion is severely limited, and the pain referring to your neck is causing problems. 

Unfortunately, shoulder pain after a car accident is common, and there are several shoulder injuries you might experience from a car accident.

No matter the cause of your shoulder pain, chiropractic care can help reduce that pain and get you feeling back to “normal” as quickly as possible. 

Learn about the most common shoulder injuries caused by a car accident and how to manage or minimize your shoulder pain with chiropractic care.

Table of Contents

delayed shoulder pain after a car accident

Could I Be Experiencing Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident?

Car accidents can cause pain in many areas of the body. Maybe you’re experiencing knee pain, back pain, or general soreness from the impact of the accident. But could you be experiencing shoulder pain after a car accident, and how long might it last?

So many shoulder injuries occur following a car accident because the shoulder joint is one of the most unstable joints in the body. Not only can an already loose shoulder joint slide around more in the socket, but the shoulder joint has a shallow joint with a shallow ball that doesn’t fit together very well. 

The scapula — the place where the humerus attaches to the shoulder— isn’t in a very stable surrounding either. Instead, it’s more free-floating and attached to the spine by muscle, which can be more prone to injury during a car accident. 

There are several shoulder injuries you could experience from a car accident, and you may even experience delayed shoulder pain after a car accident. If not treated properly, your shoulder pain may last for weeks, months, or even years following the accident.

If you have any shoulder pain from a car accident, Cascade Spine & Injury Center can help. Our multidisciplinary clinic specializes in auto accident injuries and is fully equipped with everything necessary to treat shoulder injuries.

shoulder pain after car accident

7 Common Shoulder Injuries Caused By a Car Accident

Because of the instability of the shoulder joint, there is a laundry list of shoulder injuries that can occur in a car accident. Here we cover the seven most common shoulder injuries caused by a car accident and explain what might be causing your shoulder pain.

#1: Acromioclavicular Sprain

An acromioclavicular sprain is an injury to the AC (acromioclavicular) joint where the shoulder blade meets the collarbone. When the ligaments that connect these two bones are damaged, an AC sprain occurs.

When it comes to experiencing an acromioclavicular sprain from a car accident, they most often occur from a direct blow to the shoulder. Maybe your shoulder makes contact with the steering wheel or dashboard during a car accident, or the impact of the airbag causes the AC sprain to happen.

You might be suffering from an acromioclavicular sprain if you are experiencing:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • A bulge or change in the shoulder’s shape
  • A drooping shoulder
  • Limited shoulder movement
  • A collarbone that moves upward

#2: Rotator Cuff Strains

The four muscles of the rotator cuff can get impinged or stretched and torn, especially if you’re holding something in your hands, or your arm was flailing during the collision. These muscles keep the head of the upper arm bone firmly in the shoulder socket but are easy to strain.

Many people describe the pain associated with a rotator cuff strain as:

  • A dull ache deep in the shoulder
  • Arm weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty reaching behind the back

#3: Rotator Cuff Capsule Sprain 

A sprain involves tearing or stretching of a ligament or joint capsule, and that is what happens to cause a rotator cuff capsule sprain. 

During a car accident, this could happen if you’re holding onto the steering wheel and you get a force back through the shoulder. The collagen that holds the shoulder joint capsule becomes stretched, causing injury and pain.

Rotator cuff capsule sprains can:

  • Make sleeping difficult
  • Make it difficult to reach your arms above your head
  • Cause limited range of motion
  • Cause shoulder muscle weakness

#4: Displacement of Labrum 

The labrum is a cartilaginous lip that goes around the shoulder socket to help deepen the shallow socket. During a car accident, the labrum can become displaced — either anteriorly (front) or posteriorly (back) — due to different mechanisms. 

There are three common types of labrum tears:

  1. A labrum can completely tear off of the bone, which usually occurs when the shoulder has subluxated or dislocated, which is the most common type of labrum tear in car accidents.
  2. The substance within the labrum itself can tear or fray over time, which often happens as people age and does not cause many symptoms.
  3. The labrum can also tear where the bicep attaches to the shoulder socket.

#5: Non-Rotator Cuff Muscle Strains

Sometimes, shoulder strains are not directly related to an injury in the shoulder. Car accidents could also cause non-rotator cuff muscle strains, like strains to the:

  • Bicep muscle
  • Deltoid; or
  • Upper trapezius

If strains, or a partial or complete tear of the muscle, occur in these locations, the pain can oftentimes be referred to the shoulder. The muscle fibers can be injured, slightly torn, or torn all the way through. 

This could happen from any impact caused by a car accident or the involuntary movements that occur during an unexpected event, like an accident.

#6: Shoulder Blade Issues

A common shoulder blade issue that may occur from a car accident is a disruption of the scapulothoracic joint. While not a true joint, this broad connection is the articulation between the scapula and the thorax. 

When there is a high-energy trauma, like a car accident, scapulothoracic dyskinesis can happen. This is an abnormal scapula motion that disrupts the normal glenohumeral joint mechanics, causing shoulder pain.

#7: Referred Shoulder Pain

Oftentimes, pain people experience in their shoulder post-car accident is not actually caused by a shoulder injury.

For example, if you’re experiencing slight neck pain that refers to the shoulder, you might think you’ve caused injury to your shoulder. Or, you might have intense shoulder pain and no other pain elsewhere, so you assume you’ve injured your shoulder.

A chiropractor can perform certain tests to help determine exactly where your pain might be coming from. Is it a true shoulder injury or are you experiencing referred shoulder pain?

By attempting to recreate the pain at a distal site, chiropractors can determine where the irritation is coming from to correctly diagnose the pain.

shoulder pain after a car accident

How Long Will My Shoulder Hurt After a Car Accident?

How long you might be experiencing shoulder pain after a car accident depends on many factors:

  • What is your exact shoulder pain?
  • Do you have an injury diagnosis?
  • Have you sought out care for your pain?
  • How severe is your injury?

If you choose not to be checked out following a car accident, especially if you’re experiencing shoulder pain or any other pain, you could be in pain for a while.

Receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment plan will help expedite the process of recovering from your shoulder injury and minimizing shoulder pain as quickly as possible.

Can Chiropractors Treat Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident?

Many chiropractors can treat shoulder pain after a car accident, but seeking care from a chiropractor that specializes in treating car accident injuries may give you the best results in your treatment and recovery. 

At Cascade Spine & Injury Center, we specialize in auto accident-related injuries and offer a thorough evaluation to help properly diagnose your pain. We take the time to run necessary tests, give a proper diagnosis, and create a treatment plan for every patient.

Our multidisciplinary clinic offers a variety of in-house treatment options, including …

  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic care; and
  • Physical therapy

… so we are qualified and capable of treating a wide array of injuries.

shoulder pain weeks after car accident

Treatment Options for Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident

Many treatment options are available for shoulder injuries caused by a car accident, and Cascade Spine & Injury Center can provide every option. 

Treatment will depend on your diagnosis, which is why it’s important to seek chiropractic care following a car accident, regardless of your pain level.

Exercise Therapy

With a proper diagnosis, patients can receive exercise therapy to help with both stretching and strengthening of the muscles, depending on the exact injury.

Injuries like …

  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Non-rotator cuff injuries
  • Referred shoulder pain

… may require exercise therapy.

Your chiropractor or physical therapist may recommend the following exercises to help stretch and strengthen the muscles:

  • Neck stretches
  • Shoulder rolls
  • External band rotations
  • Internal band rotations
  • Lateral raises
  • Upright rows
  • Shoulder I-Y-T’s

Proprioceptive Work

With proprioceptive work, patients are working to improve the body’s ability to sense its locations, movements, and actions. It can be described as fine-tuning the fine motor skills within the shoulder to help retain and regain shoulder ability.

Shoulder injuries that affect the muscles can cause proprioception impairment which would require proprioceptive work.

A physical therapist can assess proprioception in many ways:

  • Controlling and moving other body parts
  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Electromyography


Adjustments are a common way to treat shoulder pain after a car accident. It might be recommended to perform shoulder blade mobilizations, like applying pressure to different areas.

A chiropractor or physical therapist might also use instruments on impingements to help stretch out the shoulder capsule or utilize the drop table to help with pain around the shoulder, neck, back, or spine.


Modalities are other physical agents applied to produce therapeutic changes to biological tissues. Chiropractors tend to utilize stretching and exercise therapy, adjustments, and various instruments, but sometimes other forms of treatment are necessary.

Common modalities used with chiropractic care include:

  • Ultrasound
  • Muscle stimulation therapy
  • Heat therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • TENS unit

Provide Recommendations for At-Home

Seeking chiropractic care for shoulder pain after a car accident is important so you can receive the best treatment and care for your injury. Chiropractors will create treatment plans to follow in their office, but they will also provide recommendations for at-home treatment and suggestions for minimizing shoulder pain.

For example, if your shoulder pain is making it difficult to sleep, chiropractors can recommend the best positions for minimizing that pain.

They can also provide stretches or exercises to perform at home, and suggest changes you can make to your daily routine to minimize pain and increase comfort.

Cascade Spine & Injury Center: Trusted Professionals Helping You To Treat and Manage Your Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident

Car accidents are unexpected, inconvenient, and often cause pain and injury. But choosing to ignore shoulder pain — or any pains — after a car accident can cause more harm.

At Cascade Spine & Injury Center, we are a multidisciplinary clinic — a one-stop shop for all of your needs — with over a decade of experience. We offer a variety of treatment options from massage therapy to acupuncture to physical therapy and chiropractic care all in one location. Whatever treatment you might need for your shoulder pain, we can handle it.

After a thorough evaluation and conducting any necessary tests or imaging, our team of experts works to properly diagnose every patient and create a unique treatment plan for the injury. We also offer at-home recommendations to help you get back to feeling like your normal self as quickly as possible.

Are you ready to live pain-free? Contact Cascade Spine & Injury today for an appointment.

shoulder pain after car accident

The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.

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