Knee Injuries Suffered in Car Accidents: What You Need to Know

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Common knee injuries resulting from car accidents include fractures, dislocations, and ligament sprains. The kneecap is particularly vulnerable in collisions, where it may strike the dashboard or steering wheel. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent long-term complications.

Knee injuries have accounted for nearly 10% of all car accident injuries recorded per year for more than 40 years. If you’ve recently been involved in a motor vehicle accident and are experiencing knee pain, there’s a high probability you’ve suffered a type of knee injury.

The most common types of knee injuries from a car accident include broken bones, ligament tears, and meniscus injuries. If you believe you’ve sustained a knee injury from a car crash, now is the time to visit a qualified medical professional for a proper diagnosis.

A medical team can help alleviate knee pain, improve your range of motion, and get you back on your feet again. A legal team can help fight for your right to fair compensation once you’ve healed.

Take a look at everything you should know about knee injuries caused by car accidents.

Common Types of Knee Injuries from Car Accidents

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Car accident victims are prone to knee injuries because of how the knees are positioned within the vehicle. With nothing to restrain the lower body to the car seat, a victim’s knees can easily shift forward and slam against the steering wheel or dashboard. This vulnerable position means kneecap fractures and soft tissue injuries are some of the most frequently reported car accident injuries.

Here are all of the most common types of knee injuries from car accidents, from muscular injuries to skeletal injuries, and everything in between.

Kneecap Injuries

Kneecap injuries are common in car accidents, particularly in collisions where the knee strikes the dashboard or steering wheel. The kneecap, also known as the patella, is a small bone that sits in front of the knee joint and helps to protect the joint and aid in movement.

Injuries to the kneecap can range from minor fractures to complete dislocation. Fractures can occur when the kneecap is hit with great force, causing it to break. On the other hand, a dislocation takes place when the patella is forcefully shifted out of its normal position, usually to the side of the knee.

Kneecap injuries can have a significant impact on a person’s daily life, limiting their mobility and causing chronic pain. Treatment for these injuries varies depending on their severity but can include immobilization of the leg, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.

Muscular Injuries

Two muscle groups give the knees mobility: the quadriceps muscles (vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris) and the hamstring muscles (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus). Muscular injuries are a type of soft tissue injury that affects either of these two muscle groups in the knee joint.

  • Grade 1 Muscle Strain: The mildest type of strain, where some muscle fibers are stretched or torn, but the muscle group retains full mobility.
  • Grade 2 Muscle Strain: A more severe type of strain, where more muscle fibers are stretched or torn so that the muscle group becomes weaker and has less range of motion.
  • Grade 3 Muscle Strain: The most severe type of strain, where all muscle fibers are significantly stretched or completely torn so that the muscle group loses all function.

Ligament Injuries

Ligaments are a type of soft tissue that connects each bone in the knee joint. Like muscles, knee ligaments can become stretched or torn in a motor vehicle accident. There are four main knee ligaments, including the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL), and medial collateral ligament (MCL).

  • Torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL Tear): A stretch or tear in the ligament that controls forward leg movement and the rotation of the knee joint. While also a frequent sports injury, an ACL injury is common when the force of a crash twists the knee joint.
  • Torn Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL Tear): A stretch or tear in the ligament that controls backward leg movement. Also referred to as dashboard knee, PCL injuries occur when the knee slams into the dashboard or steering wheel.
  • Torn Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL Tear): A stretch or tear in the ligament that stabilizes the knee joint. An LCL injury is common when the knee joint is struck from the side.
  • Torn Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL Tear): A stretch or tear in the ligament that controls inward pressure on the knee joint. An MCL injury is the most common knee ligament injury.

Cartilage Injuries

Cartilage is a type of connective tissue that keeps the knee joint together. The two main types of cartilage in the knee are articular (hyaline), which covers the end of each bone, and meniscus (fibrocartilage), which protects the joints from stress. The impact of a car crash can severely tear either type of cartilage and create painful inflammation in the knee joint.

  • Articular Tear: A tear in the cartilage that covers the femur and knee cap bones.
  • Meniscus Tear: A tear in the medial (inside) or lateral (outer) meniscus that cushions the femur and knee cap bones from weight-bearing activities.

Skeletal Injuries

A skeletal injury results from physical trauma that weakens or damages bones. During an accident, a knee bone can dislocate (shift out of its place in the knee joint) or completely break. The knee is made up of four bones, the femur (thighbone), tibia (shinbone), patella (kneecap), and fibula. One or more knee bones can suffer damage in a car crash.

  • Knee Dislocation: A knee injury that occurs when one or more of the four bones in the knee joint partially or completely shift out of the joint.
  • Broken Femur (Thighbone Fracture): An upper leg injury that occurs when the bone connecting the hip to the knee partially or completely breaks.
  • Broken Tibia (Shinbone Fracture): A lower leg injury that occurs when the bone connecting the ankle to the knee partially or completely breaks.
  • Broken Patella (Kneecap Fracture): A knee injury that occurs when the small triangular bone at the front of the kneecap cracks or shatters.
  • Broken Fibula (Fibula Fracture): A lower leg injury that occurs when the bone running parallel to the shinbone partially or completely breaks.

Fractures can be classified as displaced or nondisplaced and open or closed. A displaced knee fracture occurs when the bone breaks and moves out of alignment, whereas a nondisplaced knee fracture remains in alignment. An open knee fracture occurs when the broken bone penetrates through the skin, whereas a closed knee fracture does not break the skin.

Other Minor Knee Injuries

There are a variety of soft tissue knee injuries from car accidents that don’t fall neatly under the category of muscular, ligament, cartilage, or skeletal injuries. These injuries often happen when one or both knees slam against the steering wheel, dashboard, or car door during a collision. Glass shards and other sharp objects can also become projectiles that injure the knees.

  • Contusion (Bruise): Blunt force trauma can burst blood vessels under the skin’s surface to create a bruise.
  • Abrasion: Also known as road rash, an abrasion is a type of injury caused by the scraping away of the top layers of skin.
  • Laceration: A wound caused by a direct penetration into the skin’s surface.
  • Knee Bursitis: A direct blow to the knee can cause swelling in the bursae (fluid-filled sacs) that protect the joint, creating knee pain and limited range of motion.

Medical Treatment for Knee Injuries Following a Car Accident

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If you’re experiencing knee pain or hearing a popping sound when moving your knees after a crash, seek medical attention immediately. The only way to treat your car accident knee injury is to seek a proper diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. Your local emergency room or family doctor can request medical imaging, such as X-rays or CT scans, to correctly identify the injury.

Medical treatment for your knee injury symptoms, like severe pain or limited range of motion, will depend on your injury diagnosis. A minor knee injury, like a Grade 2 sprain, may only require a few weeks of physical therapy to return to full strength. A severe knee injury, such as an open tibia fracture, may require surgery and the use of a leg brace to repair the damage.

The majority of auto accident-related knee injuries will require a good deal of rest to heal the damage. Many doctors will recommend the RICE method, an acronym short for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Other doctors may recommend over-the-counter or prescription pain medication to reduce swelling and ease severe pain symptoms.

Seeking treatment is important, even if you feel that your injuries are minor. Some serious injuries may not present themselves right away and become more complicated if left alone. To make things more complicated, knee pain may also be a sign of damage to other parts of your body such as a car accident hip injury.

A knee injury from a car accident can require a significant amount of recovery time, which equals time away from work and a limited income to pay for medical bills. The purpose of auto insurance is to protect an accident victim from physical and financial losses caused by another driver’s negligence, including medical expenses and emotional distress from serious injuries.

If you sustained a knee injury in an accident that was limited or no fault of your own, the insurance company should pay for your damages. Typical damages in a personal injury case include economic damages — like the cost of vehicle repairs, lost wages, and medical bills — and non-economic damages like pain and suffering or changes to your quality of life.

If you’re unsure how the severity of the injury may impact your auto accident settlement, reach out to a personal injury law firm. A car accident attorney can help quantify the damages in your injury claim and gather the necessary medical documents so you can be compensated fairly for your knee injuries. An attorney can also negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf.

Learn More About Your Rights and Options for a Settlement Following a Knee Injury in a Car Accident

If you are a licensed and insured driver in the state of Kentucky, you have rights after an accident. Do not suffer a knee injury from a car accident alone. Reach out to a trusted Louisville law firm with more than a decade of experience fighting to protect the rights of accident victims.

Personal injury lawyer David Bryant is ready to help you navigate the injury claim process and seek compensation for your knee pain. If you’re unsure which steps to take next, contact us today for a free consultation. We’ll plan your next steps together, so you can begin to heals.

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David G. Bryant is certified to practice in all state courts in Kentucky, and federal courts in the Eastern and Western districts of Kentucky, Southern District of New York, Southern District of West Virginia, Northern District of Ohio, Middle District of Tennessee, and Western District of Pennsylvania. He is licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.