9 Most Common Knee Injuries from Car Accidents [Symptoms & Treatments]


If you’ve been in a car accident, knee injuries are common. You may have minor wounds like bruising, cuts, and scrapes. Or, you may suffer more serious knee injuries that require immediate medical attention, including a dislocated knee or severe ligament damage.

The knee joint is a crucial part of the body that connects multiple bones in your leg. It’s commonly injured as the result of a motor vehicle accident. The sudden external force of a car crash can cause a variety of potentially serious injuries. 

The consequences of a knee injury vary widely, depending on the victim’s age and physical condition, and the severity of the injury. Some injuries heal well over time after the initial medical treatment. However, others can result in chronic pain, preventing the victim from returning to the same quality of life.

Common Knee Injuries from Car Accidents

Common Knee Injuries from Car Accidents

Car crashes often cause acute injury to the knee – even if the accident occurs at a low speed. Let’s take a closer look at the range of knee injuries most often seen in car accident victims.

  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)
  • Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)
  • Kneecap Fracture
  • Tibial Plateau Fracture
  • Knee Dislocation
  • Muscular Injuries
  • Cartilage Injuries

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)

The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the four largest ligaments in the knee. It’s meant to keep the upper and lower leg from colliding and plays a significant role in the knee’s rotational stability.

A cruciate ligament ACL injury is the most common knee injury that occurs in a car accident. It’s the result of the sudden, extreme hyperextension of the knee and leg during the accident. 

Ligament injuries are serious and require treatment. In cases of a minor tear, doctors may recommend anti-inflammatory medications, a knee brace, and physical therapy to restore function. 

If severe tears are present, it will require surgery. Rehabilitation after ACL surgery will take four to six months.

Knee Injuries due to Car Accidents

Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)

The posterior cruciate ligament or PCL is found at the back of the knee. It’s what keeps the tibia (shin) from moving too far backward. It’s stronger than the ACL and not injured as often.

A cruciate ligament PCL injury is most common when a bent knee hits the dashboard in a car accident.

Depending on the severity of the sprain, you’ll be advised to rest the knee for six to eight weeks. You’ll be advised to immobilize the knee with a brace. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy. 

Immediate surgery may be needed in the case of a complete PCL tear, especially if there are other injuries to the knee, too. Full recovery takes six to 12 months. It could be months before it’s possible to return to a desk job.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)

The medial collateral ligament is another connection between the thigh bone (femur) and the tibia. This is another common injury when the knee comes into contact with the dashboard or another solid object. Most often, MCL tears do not require surgery.

A collateral ligament MCL injury could be minor if there’s only a small tear. However, like the other ligament tears, you’ll be advised to rest and elevate your knee. Recovery can be as little as a few weeks but can be up to a few months.

Kneecap Fracture

Also known as a fractured patella or knee fracture, this is a break of the knee cap bone. This is the moveable bone at the front of your knee that protects your joint. If the kneecap hasn’t moved out of place, you’ll only have to wear a cast for a few weeks. However, if pieces of bone are out of place, surgery is required. The fractured patella should be healed within six to eight weeks. However, you may still experience pain and swelling for several months. 

Tibial Plateau Fracture

The shinbone is at the bottom of your knee. The tibial plateau is part of the knee joint that supports your weight as you move. This type of injury is common when your leg is pinned or crushed inside the car after a crash. The injury involves damage to muscles, ligaments, cartilage, and tendons in the knee.

If x-rays or MRI imaging shows that the fracture is minor and without alignment issues, you likely won’t surgery to repair the injury. However, if the knee bones are displaced, sticking out of the skin, or otherwise unstable, surgery is the only way to fix it.

If this fracture doesn’t heal properly, there’s a high risk of developing arthritis.

Car Accidents -Knee Injuries

Knee Dislocation

This is an extremely painful, serious knee injury that requires immediate medical treatment. The doctor must first put the knee back into location. Surgery may be necessary if there’s damage to the arteries. 

The entire knee joint is immobilized to keep it from bending during healing. Even after the knee has healed, it won’t ever be quite the same. It has an increased risk of developing arthritis and won’t absorb stress the way it did before the injury.

Muscular Injuries

The sudden impact of car accidents can also cause minor knee injuries. Among the most common is muscular injury. This injury occurs when trauma strains the tendons connecting your knee muscles to the bones or strains the muscles themselves. As a result, you may experience pain, muscle spasms, bruising, swelling, and decreased range of motion. 

You can treat mild injuries at home with rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) along with anti-inflammatory medication. More severe strains, such as a ruptured tendon, may require surgery and physical therapy.

Cartilage Injuries

Your knee contains two pieces of cartilage, known as the medial meniscus and the lateral meniscus. They provide padding between your femur and tibia to prevent friction and joint damage. 

A meniscus injury often occurs when the knee is forcefully rotated or twisted. If you have a torn meniscus, you may feel pain, swelling, stiffness, and range of motion issues. Many cartilage tears can be treated with RICE, though more severe tears may require surgical repair.

Consequences of Improperly Treated Knee Injuries

If you suffer a knee injury that goes untreated or isn’t treated correctly, you could be setting yourself up for a lifetime of pain and decreased function. You may need weeks to months to fully recover. As a result, you lose income, and you may even lose the ability to perform the same job you did before the accident. 

Improperly treated knee injury affects more than your earning capacity. You are more likely to deal with chronic pain. It will be easier for you to re-injury yourself if you fall. You may experience nerve or artery damage, further knee joint instability, and arthritis.

Knee Injury Symptoms

Knee injury symptoms vary depending on the nature and severity of the car accident. You’re more likely to suffer knee injuries from a car accident if the impact leaves your body in an awkward position or if your knee hits the dashboard. 

Knee injury symptoms include:

  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Knee pain (severe pain with more serious injury)
  • Inability to bear weight on the affected knee

The more serious knee injuries will often present with immediate pain. However, soft tissue injuries may not show up immediately. This is part of the reason why it’s so important to seek medical attention even if you feel okay after an automobile accident.

Personal Injury Attorneys Ready to Help After an Auto Accident

If suspect that you may have a knee injury from car accident, contact our car accident lawyer today. You may be entitled to compensation for lost wages and medical bills. Our law firm provides a free case evaluation, and you don’t pay unless we win.


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