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Car accidents and ‘dashboard knees’

“Dashboard knee” is a term used to describe what happens when someone’s leg crashes into the dashboard of a car during an accident.

In medical terms, it’s an injury to the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). Victims may also suffer from a broken patella (kneecap). This type of injury can have devastating effects on a victim’s mobility and lifestyle.

What exactly causes the damage?

Your PCL is deep inside your knee. Its function is to keep your leg stable by attaching the back of your tibia to your femur. Essentially, it keeps your lower leg and knee from folding backward.

The sudden impact with the dashboard may shatter your kneecap, which is a pretty bad injury in its own right. However, it’s even more serious when your shinbone gets pushed backward by the dashboard, forcing a tear in the PCL. This only occurs when your knee is bent at the point of impact. Therefore, tall drivers and passengers are the most common victims.

What are the symptoms of dashboard knee?

If your kneecap is broken, you’ll experience immediate pain and swelling. Putting your full weight on your leg will likely be impossible.

Injuries involving the PCL can range from mild to severe and take months to heal. Aside from pain and swelling, your knee may be unstable. It may feel like your leg is trying to bend the wrong way at times when you take a step or put your weight down.

A doctor can check for the signs of a PCL injury by looking for an obvious “sag” in your tibia and an indentation in the patella tendon when you lie flat and lift your leg.

What can be done to treat the injury?

For a minor PCL injury, rest, ice and immobilization are your best bets. If you’re lucky, that’s all it will take.

If your injury is severe or involves other issues (like a broken kneecap), you may need more intervention. Anticipate the need for physical therapy. Surgery is also a possibility.

Long-term problems with “dashboard knee” are common — especially if you have complications. Many sufferers, unfortunately, develop arthritis in the injured knee that ultimately affects their mobility for the rest of their lives. That’s why it is so important to seek fair compensation after a motor vehicle accident to help with your medical treatment, rehabilitation and other expenses.