Seatbelts have saved countless lives during major auto accidents. Over the years, the designs for seatbelts have been modified and improved, but the purpose of seatbelts has not changed: they are intended to keep drivers and occupants in place to prevent a physical collision with the interior of the car.
When a collision occurs, the force of impact against another car or object may stop the vehicle itself, but the body remains moving at the previous speed. This results in a dangerous situation in which passengers may come in violent contact with the steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield. The seatbelt is instrumental in holding occupants in place and minimizing the potential for injury.
While seatbelts save lives, they can also be the cause of certain auto accident injuries, even when they are fastened and functioning properly. After a traumatic accident, seatbelts may have prevented more serious consequences, but can also cause acute pain in the neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, and back.
Shoulder injuries, for example, are usually the result of wearing the seatbelt’s shoulder strap, in which the jerking motion of the accident leads to pain in that area. The chest is also affected by seatbelts; chest pain may be a warning sign of more serious injuries such as broken ribs or a fractured sternum.
The use of lap belts can cause trauma to the spine (particularly the lumbar spine, or lower back), which can lead to various symptoms in different areas of the body. Sciatica, for example, can result from trauma to the lumbar spine and may be experienced as pain in the lower back, buttock, thigh, calf, and foot. Some patients may have muscle weakness and numbness and/or tingling. Other conditions that can be caused by trauma while wearing a seatbelt are herniated or bulged discs or muscle pain.