The body consists of three segments. Your head contains your brain. The thorax sits below the head and contains vital organs like the heart and lungs. The abdomen rests below the thorax and contains the digestive organs.
A thoracic injury can endanger your life. It can also cause permanent organ damage to your heart and lungs that could disable you.
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What Is the Thorax?
You probably rarely think about your thorax. This body section sits between the bottom of your neck and the bottom of your ribcage. Inside your body, the thoracic cavity is enclosed by the rib cage, collarbones, and diaphragm.
Doctors often use the terms chest and thorax interchangeably. But these terms can also refer to injuries to different parts of the body. A chest injury often identifies an injury to the musculoskeletal portion of the thorax, such as the rib cage and chest muscles. A thoracic injury often refers to an injury to the organs inside the chest.
The ribs protect the organs from injury. The intercostal muscles between the ribs cause the chest to expand so the lungs can fill with air. These structures form the thoracic wall.
The thoracic cavity contains the heart, lungs, and major blood vessels. The trachea and esophagus also pass through the chest cavity as they run to the lungs and stomach.
Nerves connecting the brain directly to the vital organs also run into the thoracic cavity. The vagus nerve, for example, controls your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration.
What Causes Thoracic Injuries?
Most thoracic injuries result from two types of trauma:
Blunt trauma happens when you strike your chest without creating an open wound. For example, in a slip and fall accident, you will suffer blunt trauma when you fall backward and the back of your chest hits the ground.
Blunt trauma can jostle the organs, causing the tissues to rip. A blunt injury can also break your ribs. Broken ribs can pierce the thoracic cavity and tear into the organs inside.
Penetrating trauma happens when something pierces your chest and enters the thoracic cavity. This type of injury can happen in a workplace accident if you fall onto a sharp or pointed object like a piece of rebar. It can also happen in a car accident if your chest gets impaled on your gearshift, steering column, or other objects during the crash.
Penetrating trauma can puncture your organs and tear tissues. It can also lead to infections inside your chest cavity that lead to long-term illnesses.
What Types of Thoracic Injuries Can a Person Sustain?
Thoracic injuries are often fatal or incapacitating since they typically affect your heart, lungs, or major blood vessels. Some thoracic injuries include:
Most people assume that filling your lungs causes your chest to expand. But this is backward. Your chest muscles expand your chest, creating the space for your lungs to fill with air.
More importantly, your thoracic cavity is airtight. When the chest muscles expand the chest, the area surrounding the lungs contains a vacuum, so the lungs do not need to fight air pressure to fill with air.
A pneumothorax happens when penetrating trauma opens a hole in the thoracic cavity. Outside air rushes into the area surrounding the lungs. The increased pressure collapses the lungs and prevents them from re-inflating.
As a result, you will experience:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
Without immediate medical treatment, you could suffer permanent lung damage or death.
A hemothorax involves the same dynamic as a pneumothorax. But instead of air, blood or other body fluids pressurize the cavity and collapse the lungs. This injury often happens when a penetrating injury causes internal bleeding. The blood fills the thoracic cavity, leading to a hemothorax.
The pericardium surrounds the heart. This membrane protects the heart from infections. It also isolates the beating heart from the surrounding tissues so they do not rub against the heart and wear it out.
Penetrating injuries can cause blood or other fluids to fill the pericardium. The fluid pressure inside the membrane strangles the heart and causes it to beat irregularly. Without emergency medical treatment, a cardiac tamponade can cause the heart to stop beating.
Your heart delivers oxygenated blood to every cell in your body. As blood leaves your heart, it passes through the aorta. Since all the blood in your circulatory system passes through the aorta, an aortic tear can cause you to bleed to death in a matter of minutes.
A flail chest happens when you break multiple ribs in multiple places. When this happens, rib fragments float freely on top of the chest cavity. Since they cannot contain or control the lungs, the chest moves the opposite as it should. The area under the broken ribs goes in when you inhale and goes out when you exhale.
Flail chest injuries require immediate medical attention. The broken pieces of the ribs can damage the chest cavity or even pierce the lungs.
What Types of Compensation Can You Pursue for Thoracic Injuries?
You can obtain substantial financial compensation for thoracic injuries. These injuries often require treatment by specialist surgeons, resulting in significant medical bills. You may also need a long period of recovery and rehabilitation.
Thoracic injuries can also cause death. As a result, these injuries may form the basis of a wrongful death claim by the family of a deceased victim.
The compensation you can seek for a thoracic injury includes economic and non-economic losses.
Your economic damages include all the financial impacts of the injury, such as medical bills and lost income. If you suffer from long-term disabilities, economic losses can include your diminished earning capacity.
Your non-economic damages include all the human costs of your injury. Examples of these losses include physical pain, emotional distress, mental anguish, disability, and disfigurement.
Contact a Florida Personal Injury Attorney To Discuss Your Thoracic Injuries
A thoracic injury can cause irreparable damage and significantly diminish your quality of life. To discuss your thoracic injury and the compensation you can seek for it, contact Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers for a free consultation at (561) 347-7770.