There’s no shortage of injuries that can arise in the hours, days, and even weeks after being in a car accident. A fair number of injuries sustained in auto collisions occur in the lower extremities—37 percent of car accidents, in fact—so it’s safe to say that leg pain is common after a car accident.
Learn about the symptoms of common leg injuries sustained in car accidents and discover your treatment options.
Your legs are made up of a complex series of nerves, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue, many of which are interconnected to other parts of your body, especially your back.
For example, if you pinch a nerve, experience a herniated or slipped disc, or injure your back in a car accident, a key symptom could be shooting pain up and down your leg.
Your body can be impacted by car accidents in many different ways, and you could be experiencing leg pain for a number of reasons. The types of leg injuries sustained in a car accident depend on a number of factors: the severity of the wreck at hand, where you were located in the car, if you were wearing a seatbelt, and the side of the vehicle impacted by the collision.
Areas of the leg impacted from a car accident
Each leg contains five regions that work together to support your body and provide range of motion — your upper leg, knee, lower leg, ankle and foot. ll can potentially be injured in a car accident. These leg injuries can be debilitating — both physically and emotionally — and can drastically impair your ability to walk and negatively impact your quality of life.
The upper leg is what we all know as our thigh. It contains the femur, which is the longest bone in our body, as well as twelve muscles: three hamstrings, four quadriceps, and five adductors — all of which can be severely impacted in a car accident.
The knee is the largest joint in our body, as well as the easiest to injure. It plays a key role in our ability to walk, run, jump, squat, and perform other everyday activities. Each knee contains a patella (knee bone), articular cartilage, two menisci, two ligaments, 14 bursa, and multiple tendons that can be damaged in a car accident and impact your ability to move.
Extending from our knees to our ankles, our lower legs — or calves — contain our tibia (or shin bone), fibula (calf bone), as well as their associated nerves and muscles that help with plantar flexion (movement of the ankle). At the back of our lower legs sits the achilles tendons, which attach our calves to our ankle and foot bones.
A twisted or sprained ankle can cause a world of pain and discomfort, but when it comes to a car accident, there’s a lot that can be impacted. Each ankle consists of a talus (ankle bone) that connects to the tibia and fibula of the lower leg, and two groups of ligaments — medial and lateral — that help stabilize our ankles.
Did you know that 25 percent of the bones in our body are found in our feet alone? Each foot contains 26 bones, 33 joints, over 20 muscles, and more than 30 ligaments and tendons. This means that a foot injury following a car accident could be the result of multiple broken bones or injuries to the soft tissue in your feet, and can severely throw you off balance.
Symptoms of soft tissue injuries like contusions, sprains, strains and tears may not show up for days or even weeks after an accident. To rule out any serious injuries and speed your auto accident recovery rate, we recommend visiting a doctor as soon as you’re able.
Leg injury symptoms after a car accident
The physical impact of a car accident makes it common for victims to feel soreness throughout their bodies. Because your legs are interconnected to so many other parts of your body, it’s common to not be sure where the pain is stemming from. Leg pain after a car accident can be from a back injury, as well as soft tissue injuries, nerve damage, fractures, and more.
As people experience pain differently, their symptoms can range from mild discomfort to shooting or throbbing pain, making everyday tasks feel impossible to complete. After a car accident, common leg injury symptoms include:
- Instability in the leg: When planting your feet, you could feel weakness, pain or discomfort for a number of reasons: a torn MCL, a slipped disc, a fractured bone, and more.
- Popping and clicking: If a joint has been injured in an accident, you’ll likely hear a popping and clicking sound that signals potential damage.
- Pins and needles: This numbness and tingling sensation is an indicator that you could have nerve damage in your leg.
- Leg stiffness: Because we often tense our muscles in a car accident, this symptom could subside in the hours after the collision. However, ongoing stiffness could be an indicator of joint damage or more.
- Burning pain: This could travel up and down the front or back of your legs, or the areas directly impacted by the wreck.
- Sharp pain: Putting too much weight on one or more legs, shifting weight, or even standing up, could cause severe damage.
5 common leg injuries from a car accident
From fractures — whether partial or complete — to tears, sprains, strains and more, we’ll discuss the most common leg injuries from a car accident below.
1. Femur fractures
Your femur — also known as your thigh bone — is the longest bone in your body. It is also the thickest and strongest bone in your body, and causes major force to fracture. For this reason, healing from a femur fracture usually takes much longer than other bones in your leg, and even your body.
2. Tibia/Fibula fractures
When it comes to leg injuries from a car accident, the tibia (front bone of the leg) and fibula (back leg bone) are particularly prone to becoming fractured.
When part of the vehicle either crumples or caves in, the leg can become lodged in between the floor and dashboard, causing the bone breakage.
3. Meniscus Tear
A torn meniscus can cause severe pain after a car accident. While some car accident victims can still walk with a torn meniscus, damage to this soft cartilage creates severe difficulty in putting weight on the injured knee.
4. ACL Injuries
An injured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is highly painful to experience. In most cases, car accident victims with an ACL injury are left unable to put any weight on their leg, and have to undergo surgery.
The sciatic nerve runs from our lower spine down each of our thighs. Even the slightest spinal misalignment after a car accident can pinch or place undue pressure on the nerve, causing numbness, tingling and even shooting pain down each leg.
Leg pain after a car accident: What to do
If you’re experiencing leg pain after a car accident, seeking immediate treatment from an orthopedic specialist is vital to your health. While a primary care physician or urgent care specialist can pinpoint your issues, an orthopedic specialist can further confirm the diagnosis and design a treatment plan that works for you.
Don’t ignore leg pain after a car accident. If you avoid the doctor, what feels like minor leg pain can lead to chronic issues that require intensive treatment, or even orthopedic surgery.
Treating leg pain after a car accident
Depending on your injuries and their severity, treatment plans will vary.
Treatment for a broken bone
- Immobilization with a cast/brace
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Corticosteroid injections
- Surgery to insert metal rods/plates
Treatment for a ligament injury
- Compression via brace elastic bandage
- Icing the injured area
- Limited activity and rest
- Surgery to repair/replace the injured ligament
Treatment for a tendon injury
Depending on the severity, location and number of tendons injured, treatment plans can look like:
- Cold compresses
- Over-the-counter pain meds
- Use of a cast/brace to keep the tendon still
- Surgery to repair the damaged tendon
Treatment for nerve damage
The pain and loss of function from post-accident nerve damage can vary, as can the treatment plans:
- Electrical stimulation
- Nerve decompression
- Corticosteroid injections
- Topical treatments
- Pain medications
- Complex peripheral nerve surgery
In many cases for treating these injuries, your doctor might also require you to undergo physical therapy to increase strength and stability. If you need surgery, our experienced team at Alexander Orthopaedics provides expert outpatient care that helps you recover, faster.
Get expert leg pain treatment at Alexander Orthopaedics
Recovering from leg pain after a car accident can be painful in more ways than one. When you schedule an appointment at Alexander Orthopaedics, our car accident specialists will diagnose your injuries and work to build a personalized recovery plan designed to get you back on your feet. Get on the road to recovery today.