Dashboard Knee

Patella Injury | Have Your Knees Been Injured By The Dashboard?

A patella injury may occur when a person experiences a direct blow to the kneecap or patella during a motor vehicle accident. One example of patella injury is dashboard knee, which happens as a result of the knee crashing into the dashboard. This injury is similar to those found in sports injuries, such as patellar tendon tears and a fractured patella. Read on to know more about patella injury—its symptoms, treatment, and more!

Dashboard Knee Patella Injury in a Motor Vehicle Accident

In this guide:

Patella Injury and Dashboard Knee

Damage to patella or kneecap is common in a dashboard injury. The patella is a free-floating bone attached to the quadriceps proximally and to the tibia distally. Its purpose is to protect part of the articular surface of the joint of the knee. Pressure on the kneecap means pressure on the femoral condyles, which can break the kneecap.

The pain is immediate in a patella fracture. The swelling is obvious and weight-bearing is often very difficult. An orthopedist needs to evaluate the injury and decide if surgery or splinting is necessary to heal the bone.

Another classic dashboard injury is a tear or partial tear of the posterior cruciate ligament. This is the ligament preventing the tibia from being pushed backward. In a dashboard injury, the tibia is pushed backward in comparison to the femur, and there can be a tear of the posterior cruciate ligament.

The Results of a Study

One study by DA Nagel, et al. found 74 motor vehicle collisions involving 222 people. Of these, 57 sustained a total of 69 injuries to the knee from crashing into the instrument panel. There existed the following injuries:

  • 51 mild injuries
  • 10 moderate injuries
  • 8 severe injuries

Those injured by mild forces only had bruising. Those with greater forces suffered a fractured patella, lacerations, and open joint wounds. In some cases, legs became trapped beneath the dashboard and sustained increased bony and ligamentous injury, similar to sports injuries.

Degenerative arthritis later developed in these knees at a greater rate than in normal knees, but the incidence was not predictable. Some people also suffered from a long-term disability.

Symptoms of a Patella Injury

It must be noted that some people observe no dashboard knee injury symptoms until weeks or even months after the accident. Symptoms show up because of inflammation of the tissues and include the following:

  • Swelling in the area of the kneecap
  • Pain in the kneecap or perhaps just to the side of the kneecap
  • Tenderness to pushing on the kneecap
  • Bruising or abrasions in the area of the kneecap
  • Having a stiff knee while bending the knee
Causes of Dashboard Knee Injury

Causes of Dashboard Knee Injury | What Is Dashboard Knee Injury?

Dashboard knee is almost exclusively due to a crush injury to the knee in the area of the kneecap during a head-on motor vehicle collision. Even seat-belted persons can slip beneath the seat belt and can come in contact with the dashboard. The injury can simply cause bruising and swelling or can cause injury to the patella, the cruciate ligaments or the collateral ligaments of the knee. Fractures of the patella are uncommon but possible in this type of injury.

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Diagnosis of a Patella Injury

A plain film x-ray can show if there is a comminuted patellar fracture, but it won’t show the soft tissue injuries seen in dashboard knee.

A better test for dashboard knee is an MRI examination of the knee. It can show the status of the knee ligaments, the patella and the internal structure of the knee—even after some time has passed since the injury.

Treatment of Patella Injury

Treatment for patella injury, specifically dashboard knee injury, depends on when the injury occurred and on the severity of the injury. An orthopedist, physical therapist, or a chiropractor directs the treatment, which may include the following in the initial stages:

  • Electrical stimulation to reduce inflammation
  • Cold laser therapy to reduce inflammation
  • Ice to ease the pain and lessen the inflammation
  • Exercises to improve range of motion

After a few days, the rehabilitation can commence to strengthen the muscles around the knee and stabilize the knee itself. Rehabilitation may take several weeks or even a few months. The process may include:

  • Ice and cold laser for inflammation
  • Quadriceps isometric exercises
  • Modified squats
  • Knee extension exercises
Pain After Patella Surgery

A person may experience pain and discomfort a few days after the patella surgery, but doctors will ensure that a patient has the medication to manage the pain as the knee heals. Once the doctor has determined that the knee has healed, the patient will be advised to undergo physical therapy to aid recovery.

Patella Injury Recovery Time

The recovery period depends on the severity of the patellar fracture or tear and the type of treatment applied. Recovery time in non-surgical treatment, which mostly includes wearing an immobilizer or knee brace and physical therapy, may take 3 to 6 weeks. Patella surgery, meanwhile, calls for a longer recovery period. Including rehabilitation, it may take 4 to 6 months, or even longer, for the knee to heal completely.

Long-term Effect of Dashboard Knee

Dashboard knee injuries may have a long-term effect, especially when the posterior cruciate ligament is also affected. Some people with PCL injuries develop osteoarthritis in the injured knee joint. The symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, and loss of flexibility may start to appear years after the PCL injury.

If you or a loved one has suffered "dashboard knee" as a result of someone else's negligence and would like to discuss your legal options with an experienced Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney, contact us online or call us at 916.921.6400 to set up a FREE consultation.

Learn how patella fracture repair happens in this video by OrthoIllustrated:

You now have an idea what patella injury is, including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. This will guide you on what you need to do in case you and your loved ones get into a motor vehicle accident. When you suspect your knee is injured, don't ignore it and seek help immediately. The sooner you receive treatment, the better.

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If you have been injured in an accident, please call me for free and friendly advice at 916-921-6400 or 800-404-5400.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated for accuracy and relevancy.

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