What Causes Knee Injuries from a Car Accident?
A knee injury from a car crash can occur because the knee bends the wrong way. However, the overwhelming majority of knee injuries from car accidents occur because of direct impact or trauma to the knee.
Sometimes this occurs because the knee slammed into the steering wheel or the dashboard. Most knee injuries occur because of intrusion when the impact on the car crushes a part of the car inward toward the knee. The most common intrusion impacts that cause knee injuries include:
- Head-on collisions
- T-bone accidents
- Side collisions into stationary objects
Knee Pain Symptoms After a Car Accident
There are many common knee injury symptoms. Sometimes those symptoms are signs of a serious injury. The most common knee symptoms that can occur after a car accident:
- Pain: The more severe the pain, the more likely you have a serious injury. The location of the pain within the knee may also be a sign of the type of injury.
- Temperature change: A warm feeling in the knee may be associated with healing. A cool feeling in the knee may mean there is impaired blood flow.
- Swelling: Minor swelling may be caused by temporary inflammation. Moderate to severe swelling may be caused by fluid build-up or internal bleeding.
- Discoloration: Changes in color may include redness or purplish from internal bleeding and bruising, or yellow or green from infection.
- Decreased strength: The injury may weaken the joint. If this happens, it is a good idea not to bear too much weight on the knee until it heals. Otherwise, you could further injure the knee or fall.
- Popping noises with movement: Knee popping noises are a sign that something more permanent has happened inside the knee.
- Reduced range of motion: Sometimes a knee injury will result in not being able to move the knee through its full range of motion. This could be a sign of serious injury.
Common Types of Car Accident Knee Injuries
Common knee injuries from car accidents are best understood by reviewing a diagram of the knee.
As you can see from the diagram, the knee joint is made up of bones, ligaments, and cartilage. The long bone of the upper leg, called the femur, comes together with the long bones of the lower leg called the tibia and fibula. These bones are attached together by ligaments called the anterior, posterior, and medial collateral ligaments.
The ends of the bones are covered with cartilage called articular lining and meniscus. There are fluid-filled sacs that surround the knee called bursa. The joint itself is protected by the free-floating circular bone called the patella. Trauma from a car accident can cause injury to any of these knee components. The following are the most common knee injuries:
- Knee Fracture: A knee fracture happens when any of the bones that make up the knee break. The fracture can just be a crack in the bone or it can be a clean break with bones out of place. Either type of fracture may include bone fragments that displace and float within the joint. Bone fractures will likely require a cast or splint. More serious fractures may require surgery. Unfortunately, these injuries may lead to long term problems including arthritis.
- Patella Injury: The patella is the round bone that floats on top of the knee. It is commonly called the kneecap. Kneecap pain from a car accident may mean there is a patella injury. The most likely cause of patella injury is direct trauma, which often occurs when the knee hits the dashboard. It is often called “dashboard knee.” Patella injuries include bruising, displacement, and fractures. Bruising, hairline fractures and displacements are often treated with immobilization and or casting. Complex patella fractures may require surgery.
- Knee Dislocation: This occurs when the bones that make up the knee are pushed or pulled out of place. A minor dislocation may pop back into place on its own. A major dislocation may require immediate surgery. Sometimes it can lead to disruption of blood supply and amputation. Although rare, this can be a life-threatening injury.
- Torn Cartilage: There are two types of cartilage in the knee joint. Either type of cartilage can be damaged in a car accident. The first type of cartilage is called the articular lining. This is the rubbery substance that covers the end of the bone. The second type of cartilage in the knee is called the meniscus. This is a small cushion that lays between both bones that make up the knee. The meniscus acts like a shock absorber.
- Knee Sprain: A sprain occurs when a ligament is overstretched. It usually a temporary injury that heals with rest. Within the knee, the ligaments that can be strained include the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and the medial cruciate ligament (MCL).
- Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injury: The PCL is the strongest ligament in the knee. It helps hold the bones within the knee joint together and allows the knee to bend. The PCL can be stretched, torn, or sprained. Minor PCL injuries may require rest and a splint. Major PCL injuries will require surgical repair.
- Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury: The ACL, like the PCL, helps hold the bones of the knee joint in place, preserving knee stability, movement, and strength. ACL injuries can often heal with splinting or rest. However, severe ACL injuries will require surgery.
- Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injury: The medial collateral ligament also allows the knee joint to move. Treatment for an MCL injury is the same as the treatment for an ACL or PCL injury.
Knee Pain Treatment
Treatment for a knee injury after an auto accident will usually depend on the type of knee injury. Serious injuries will require immediate casting, splinting, or even surgery. Minor injuries are treated with conservative care that includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
A common acronym for this type of treatment is RICE because the name includes the first letter of each word of the treatment. After surgery or RICE treatment, rehabilitation treatment may include stretching, walking, swimming, cycling, balancing, physical therapy, and possibly running.
Outcomes After a Knee Injury
Ultimate outcomes will vary depending on the severity of the injury. Minor injuries will resolve within six to 8 weeks of rest and rehabilitation. More serious injuries may require a much longer rehabilitation period of up to a year. For example, after ACL, PCL, and MCL ligament repair surgery, a lengthy process of stretching to regain full range of motion and physical therapy to regain strength may take a year or more. Unfortunately, some knee injuries will never fully heal. Osteoarthritis and chronic knee pain may be a way of life.
Do You Need to Hire a Lawyer After a Car Accident?
Whether you need to hire an auto accident lawyer after a car crash will depend on whether you are injured, the severity of your injuries, and the type of other damages. If you are not sure you need a lawyer, then you should call one to find out. An experienced personal injury attorney will give you a free consultation to discuss your possible legal case.