Motorcycle Accident Joint and Ligament Injuries

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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Motorcycle riding is a very driver-focused activity. The throttle, brakes, and shifter require fine motor skills and coordination. Unfortunately, some injuries can impair these skills needed to operate a bike. These include knee, joint, and ligament injuries that can result from an accident.

An NHTSA study of lower extremity injuries from motorcycle accidents found that these areas of the body tend to suffer the most injury:

  • Leg
  • Pelvic bone
  • Knees

While these types of injuries are mostly nonfatal with a 98% survival rate, they also lead to costly and extended medical treatment, and in some cases, permanent disability.

Types of Lower Extremity Injuries

The lower extremity covers the body area from the hip to the toes. It includes over 30 bones, and can be divided into 7 major segments (hip, thigh, knee, leg, ankle, foot and toes).

Here are the common injuries suffered by motorcycle riders in this area:

Bone and kneecap fractures – These can occur in both low side and high side accidents. A fractured bone or kneecap can make it difficult to stand or walk, much less ride a bike.

Torn ligaments – The knee has four main ligaments (ACL, PCL, MCL and LCL). Of these, the ACL (anterior crucial ligament) and PCL (posterior crucial ligament) are the most commonly injured parts for bikers. The ACL connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, while the PCL holds the shin bone in position below the femur, and stops it from sliding too far backwards.

Injured tendons – The tendon or sinew is a tough tissue that binds the muscles to your bones. A ruptured tendon can cause excruciating pain at the slightest movement, making it impossible to straighten out your arms, legs or feet.

Dislocated knee – A knee that is wrenched out of its socket can damage surrounding tissues, ligaments and bone. Studies show that road accidents, particularly motorcycle crashes, account for the majority of dislocated knee incidents, followed by sports activities.

Torn meniscus – The meniscus is the cartilage that cushions the joint between the thigh and shin bones. A torn meniscus causes severe pain, swelling and stiffness in the knees. It prevents the knees from moving freely and flexing straight.

Factors that Result in Lower Extremity Injuries

A study of 700 riders injured in motorcycle accidents found the following:

  • Sideswipes and broadside collisions produced the highest risk of lower extremity damage.
  • Multi-vehicle collisions tended to result in higher chances of lower extremity injury compared to single-vehicle crashes.
  • Fractures were the most common type of injury, accounting for 56% of wounded riders.
  • Over a third of all fractures were in the shinbone and calf bone.

The High Cost of Lower Extremity Injuries

A study commissioned by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine found that the primary cost of articular injuries is the lengthy delay for patients in returning to pre-injury activities, such as work, driving, household chores and leisure activities. 

In terms of medical cost, the average hospital expense for the most common type of injury, a lower leg fracture, is around $14,200 at the time of the study, or about $20,000 in 2020. However, the comprehensive total cost for this injury is estimated to be over $184,000, or $254,000 today.

Even a minor foot or ankle fracture can cost over $16,000 in immediate medical bills, with a comprehensive cost exceeding $200,000.

Finally, there is the financial impact of an altered lifestyle, such as loss of employment opportunities, transportation costs, and psychological counseling.

In case of a motorcycle accident resulting in injuries to the lower extremities, it’s best to consult a motorcycle accident lawyer to ensure that you are properly compensated for immediate and future expenses, and that you are able to negotiate with the negligent party from a strong position.

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How to Avoid Lower Extremity Injuries

  1. Wear the proper safety gear
  • Elbow, knee, and shin protectors are designed to reduce limb and joint injuries by cushioning the bones during a fall and shielding the skin from road rash.
  • A pair of boots can reduce the risk of ankle and foot injuries by 53%, but dedicated armored motorcycle boots can reduce it by up to 90%.
  • Armored pants and hip protectors are recommended for long rides when the risk of accidents is greater.
  1. Drive defensively
  • Side swipes and T-bone impacts are responsible for most lower extremity injuries.
  • Avoid lane splitting or swerving, and approach intersections with caution even when the light is green.
  1. Learn the proper body technique
  • For low side crashes, avoid the urge to stop your fall with your hands. Trust your back protector and body armor to carry you through the slide.
  • For high side crashes, do not stretch out your hands or legs. Tuck in your head and limbs, and follow the roll to dissipate momentum. Once the kinetic energy is dispersed, use your armored glove to stop the slide.
  1. Avoid intoxicated driving
  • Alcohol is the leading cause of single-vehicle crashes among motorcycle riders, primarily due to falls or fixed object collision.
  • Loss of balance can occur well below the BAC limit, so if you feel tipsy, don’t risk riding and call for a cab or Uber.
  • If there are no alternative rides home, sleep it off. The average time to sober up is 6 hours, so find a place to crash instead of crashing on the road.

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Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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