Dashboard Knee

Dashboard knee is a specific injury to the leg that happens as a result of crashing the knee into the dashboard of a motor vehicle during a head on collision. The injuries seen are similar to those found in sports injuries with rotational aspects, varus aspects or valgus aspects to the injury.

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

If the knee cap is fractured, the pain is immediate and the swelling is obvious. Weight-bearing is often very difficult. Such an injury needs to be evaluated by an orthopedist who can tell 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 that prevents the tibia from being pushed backward. In a dashboard incident, 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 which contained 222 occupants. Of these people 57 of them 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 that were injured from mild forces had only 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 suffered from long term disability.

Symptoms of a Dashboard Knee Injury

It should be noted that some people have no symptoms of their injury 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 knee cap
  • Pain on the knee cap or perhaps just to the side of the knee cap
  • Tenderness to pushing on the knee cap
  • Bruising or abrasions in the area of the knee cap
  • Having a stiff knee while bending the knee
Causes of Dashboard Knee

Dashboard knee is almost exclusively due to a crush injury to the knee in the area of the knee cap 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.

Diagnosis of Dashboard Knee

A plain film x-ray can show if there is a comminuted patella 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 a Dashboard Injury

The treatment of a dashboard injury depends on when the injury occurred and on the severity of the injury. Treatment will be directed by an orthopedist, physical therapy or a chiropractor. Treatment includes 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. Rehabilitation can take several weeks or even a few months. This rehabilitation is used to strengthen the muscles around the knee and help the knee become stabilized. These include:

  • Ice and cold laser for inflammation
  • Quadriceps isometric exercises
  • Modified squats
  • Knee extension exercises

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.

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