You might not think about your knees often. When they work, they are a miracle of engineering. They are strong enough to support your entire body weight. But they also provide the flexibility for you to stand, walk, lift, and jump.
When they do not work, you might think about your knees all the time. A knee injury can cause chronic pain every time you move. You might even need to quit working or change jobs to accommodate the effects of a knee injury.
Understanding knee injuries and the compensation you can seek for a knee injury can greatly benefit you or a loved one.
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What is the Structure of Your Knee?
Your knee is incredibly complex. It brings together three bones that support your weight. The femur in your thigh is the biggest bone in your body. The tibia in your calf is smaller but carries just as much weight as the femur. The fibula carries no weight. Instead, it stabilizes your ankle.
These bones meet in your knee. The knee transfers force between the tibia and femur. It also provides a joint so you can bend your leg.
Your knee has four ligaments holding the leg bones to each other:
- The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) connects the front of the femur to the tibia
- The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) connects the back of the femur to the tibia
- The medial collateral ligament (MCL) connects the side of the femur and tibia
- The lateral collateral ligament (LCL) connects the side of the femur and fibula
A fifth ligament — the patellar ligament — holds the patella over your knee.
These ligaments provide structure to the knee. Without ligaments, the bones could come apart at the joint. They could also move in any direction. The ligaments control the way your knee can and cannot move.
Your leg muscles also anchor to your leg bones at your knee. Your quadriceps muscles in your thigh anchor to your femur above and behind your patella. One of your calf muscles attaches to your femur above the back of the knee. The other calf muscle anchors to your tibia below the back of the knee.
You have cartilage lining the inside of the knee joint. Cartilage has a tough, smooth surface that protects the bones from wearing as they move. The articular cartilage sits on the bottom end of the femur, and the meniscus sits on the top end of the tibia.
How Does a Knee Injury Happen?
Knee injuries usually result from four types of forces:
Penetrating injuries happen when an object pierces your knee. These injuries do not happen often. But during a motorcycle accident, pedestrian accident, or bicycle accident, you can hit an object with enough force that the object is driven into your knee.
Similarly, a workplace accident could result in a penetrating knee injury if you fall onto an object.
Blunt Force Injuries
Blunt force injuries happen when you hit your knee without creating an open wound. For example, if you hit your knee on the underside of the dashboard in a car accident, you would suffer a blunt force injury.
Hyperextension injuries happen when your knee bends or pulls abnormally. The forces causing the hyperextension can stretch or tear soft tissue in the knee.
Under normal use, your body repairs microscopic cracks and tears in your knee daily. But when you repeat the same motion, you can cause the damage to grow faster than your body can repair it. This ongoing damage results in overuse injuries.
What Are Some Common Knee Injuries?
Knee injuries can take many different forms depending on the structures involved. There are several common knee injuries:
Strains happen when you stretch or tear a muscle or tendon.
Symptoms of a knee strain include:
- Muscle spasms
- Limited range of motion
Mild to moderate strains heal in three to six weeks with rest. If you suffered a full thickness tear of the tendon or muscle, your doctor might recommend knee surgery to repair the strain. Recovery time after knee surgery can last up to a year.
Sprains happen when you tear or stretch the ligaments in your knee.
Symptoms of a sprained knee include:
- Joint instability
- Knee pop during the accident
Like strains, mild to moderate sprains can heal on their own with three to six weeks of rest. Serious sprains might require surgery to repair the damaged ligament.
Stress on the knee can tear the cartilage lining the knee joint. The most common knee cartilage injury is a torn meniscus. When the meniscus tears, pieces of cartilage can float loose in your knee, causing problems – and without the cartilage lining the knee, your bones will grind against each other, leading to arthritis.
Symptoms of torn knee cartilage include:
- Catch or hitch in the knee movement
Torn knee cartilage can heal, but it heals very slowly. You might need to limit your activities for several months for the cartilage to regrow. If you have loose pieces of cartilage interfering with the motion of your knee, a doctor can remove them surgically.
How Do You Get Compensation for a Knee Injury?
If you suffered a knee injury in the scope and course of your employment, you can seek workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits pay for your medical treatment and reimburse you for a portion of your lost wages.
For knee injuries outside of work, you probably need to prove negligence to recover compensation. But if you successfully establish negligence, you can recover compensation for all of your economic and non-economic damages, including medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Knee injuries can require costly surgery and physical therapy. They can also temporarily or permanently disable you from working. If you suffer from knee pain, your knee injury can substantially reduce your quality of life.