Steering Wheel Impact Injuries: Why They Happen and How To Find Relief

You’re driving home from work and approaching a yellow light. To anticipate it turning red, you begin to slow down and come to a stop. The car behind you is hoping you blow through the yellow light so they’re not caught at another stop — and they rear-end you into the intersection.

Your airbag deploys but you immediately feel burning in your hands, your neck hurts, and it feels like an elephant is on your chest.

Steering wheel impact injuries are common during car accidents and can range from whiplash to broken or dislocated burns and many things in between.

Learn what types of injuries could be caused by the steering wheel and what to do if you’re experiencing any symptoms related to your car accident to begin proper healing.

Table of Contents

What Is a Steering Wheel Injury?

Steering wheel injuries are commonly caused when an airbag does not deploy during an accident. Because as the driver you sit so near to the steering wheel, common injuries caused by the steering wheel can happen to your:

  • Head or chest 
  • Face
  • Arms; or
  • Legs

At Cascade Spine & Injury Center, we treat all different types of automobile injuries, and steering wheel injuries are among them. Whether you suffer a concussion, bruised or broken ribs, or wrist sprains from the steering wheel, we can help with your healing.


What Causes Steering Wheel Impact Injuries? 

Although steering wheel impact injuries are more common if the airbag does not deploy, they can still happen if the airbag goes off. At least one airbag-related injury occurs in 43% of airbag deployments. These injuries are often caused by the airbag itself and tend to be focused around the:

  • Jaw
  • Nose
  • Eyes; or
  • Chest 

Other times, airbag deployment can cause injuries to the hands. Lacerations or burns might occur as the force of the airbag blows you backward while you grip the steering wheel.

How do steering wheel injuries happen?

  • Sitting too close to the steering wheel, even if there is an airbag deployment
  • Whiplash from impact
  • Front-end collisions; or
  • Side-impact collisions 
steering wheel impact injuries

6 Types of Steering Wheel Impact Injuries

Although there are many types of injury that can result from steering wheel impact, here are a few of the most common:

  • Concussion
  • Facial injuries
  • Wrist and arm injuries
  • Chest injuries
  • Neck injuries; and
  • Knee injuries

If you’ve experienced a steering wheel impact injury, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. If not, you run the risk of creating a worsening condition later on.

#1: Concussion

Any time your head suffers a major bump, blow, or jolt, a concussion could occur. A concussion is a mild form of a traumatic brain injury that often presents as:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events
  • Feeling foggy
  • Experiencing headaches
  • Sensitivity to bright lights or noises
  • Irritability, sadness, or nervousness; or
  • Change in normal sleep

Because automobile injuries most often have an impact — whether with another vehicle or an object — that can cause your head to connect with the steering wheel, concussions can happen from contact with the steering wheel.

#2: Facial Injuries

Steering wheels can cause damage to the face upon impact during an accident. A combination of deep skin abrasions or cuts, fractures, and intracranial hemorrhages are most common but can sometimes trigger more serious issues.

Nearly 70% of people involved in a car accident suffer from a facial injury, whether caused by the steering wheel or something else. In addition to cuts and fractures, things like…

  • Burns
  • Eye injuries
  • Facial deformities; and
  • Soft tissue injuries

… are common. 

Soft tissue injuries can be some of the most serious facial injuries sustained from an auto accident because treatment is difficult and can significantly impact a person’s facial functions and aesthetics if not cared for properly.

#3: Wrist and Arm Injuries

Maybe you have experienced a car accident where your airbag may not have deployed but you still didn’t have any face or head impacts to the steering wheel. Instead, you’re noticing wrist pain and trying to recall what might’ve happened.

Wrist pain is often caused by…

  • Compressive force
  • Jerking motions; and
  • Flailing arms

… during a collision.

If you’re experiencing symptoms like…

  • Swelling
  • Bruising or redness
  • Joint stiffness; or
  • Limited grip strength

… seek medical attention right away.

#4: Chest Injuries

Steering wheel impact injuries to the chest are so common, they even have their own name — the anteriorly crushed chest, or “steering wheel injury”.

Chest injuries can be…

  • Anterior
  • Posterior; or
  • Lateral

but most often the anteriorly crushed chest occurs and is caused by the steering wheel when the driver is thrown forward over the steering wheel.

#5: Neck Injuries

Whiplash is one of the most frequent neck injuries caused by the steering wheel and often happens when you are rear-ended. They might be even more common in those driving classic cars with only a lap belt or no airbags.

The rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck can cause a neck sprain or strain, but can also lead to other problems. 

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability or difficulty concentrating
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Headaches often starting at the base of the neck
  • Worsening pain with neck movement
  • And more

#6: Knee Injuries

Knee injuries can happen during a car accident from a blow to the steering wheel causing a:

  • Dislocated knee
  • Knee fracture
  • Patella injury
  • Cartilage tear
  • Knee sprain
  • ACL injury
  • PCL injury; or
  • MCL injury

If your steering wheel is not adjustable or has not been properly adjusted for your height, or you’re a fairly large person, the chances of suffering a knee injury from steering wheel impact may increase.

steering wheel impact

How To Avoid Steering Wheel Impact Injuries

Avoiding steering wheel impact injuries is not 100% certain even with some preventative procedures. But, there are things you can do to lessen the chance of experiencing a severe steering wheel impact injury if you are in a car accident.

Many steering wheel injuries happen because the driver is sitting too close to the steering wheel or the steering wheel is adjusted too low, so be sure your steering wheel is adjusted to an appropriate height for you as the driver. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends sitting at least 10 to 12 inches from the steering wheel and airbag cover. You should be able to clearly see the instrument panel over the steering wheel as well as outside of the window. The steering wheel should not be so low that it is touching your legs.

This distance can prevent or minimize steering wheel injuries or injuries resulting from a deployed airbag.

When To See a Doctor for Steering Wheel Impact Injuries

You’ve experienced a car accident where you suffered a blow to the steering wheel. Your hands were burned but you walked away with no physical injuries. The medical team that assessed you at the accident didn’t note anything concerning, either.

It’s now been 24 hours since your accident and you’re noticing pain in places it wasn’t there before.

You should seek medical attention following a car accident to be diagnosed and have a plan for treatment in place, but if any of the following occur, seek immediate care:

  • Pain immediately following the injury could indicate something serious is wrong — broken bones fractures, internal bleeding, etc.
  • Multiple symptoms along with pain, like numbness, discomfort, fatigue, and headaches should have medical attention.
  • Continuing and increasing pain means you’re getting worse, not better, and you should see a physician right away.

Your doctor will assess your injuries and create a treatment plan, which may include visiting a multidisciplinary clinic, like Cascade Spine & Injury, to help heal your steering wheel impact injuries

steering wheel

How Cascade Spine & Injury Center Can Help You Recover From a Steering Wheel Impact Injury

At Cascade Spine & Injury Center, we are more than a chiropractor. Although we do offer chiropractic care, our multidisciplinary center uses a variety of modalities all under one roof to best control and support your treatment process. 

With us you can expect:

  1. Chiropractic care with Dr. McClaren, an accredited Accident Reconstructionist by the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstructionists, who has extensive experience treating whiplash and other steering wheel impact injuries.
  2. Massage therapy with fully licensed massage therapists trained in several types of massage that are beneficial to automobile-related injuries.
  3. Acupuncture reduces pain, releases tightness, and speeds up the body’s natural healing process.
  4. Rehabilitative exercises tailored to you by a licensed rehab and exercise therapy clinic to prevent and reverse weakness and flexibility, restore strength and endurance and prevent re-injury.

Are you suffering from a steering wheel impact injury and want to begin your journey to healing? Contact us today to get started.


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

Leave a Comment