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Lower Extremity Injuries in Motorcycle Accidents

In a motorcycle crash, the lower half of the rider's body often suffers direct impacts with the other involved vehicle or is injured when the biker is thrown from the bike or is pinned beneath it. Lower-extremity injuries are among the most common types of injuries riders might suffer in motorcycle collisions, and some of these injuries can be permanently disabling and debilitating.

Because of the frequency with which injuries to the lower extremities happen in motorcycle crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a comprehensive study of accidents that occurred during the 10 years between 1997 and 2006. Below is an overview of their findings and some of the types of lower-extremity injuries that happen the most often in motorcycle crashes.

NHTSA Motorcycle Crash Study of Lower-Extremity Injuries

The NHTSA analyzed data in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the National Trauma Databank - National Sample Program (NTD-NSP), and the NASS General Estimates System (NASS/GES) for injuries resulting from motorcycle collisions at a sample of 100 hospitals between 1997 and 2006. During that period, the NHTSA found that motorcycle accidents increased by 129%. Each of these databases has a classification system for injuries. The NTD-NSP classifies injuries in motorcycle accidents according to their locations and severity levels. Only moderate and severe injuries to the lower extremities among motorcyclists ages 15 and above were included. The researchers categorized lower-extremity injuries by the locations where they occurred as follows:

  • Foot injuries
  • Ankle injuries
  • Leg injuries
  • Knee injuries
  • Thigh injuries
  • Hip injuries
  • Pelvic injuries
  • Other lower-extremity injuries

If a motorcyclist suffered two or more injuries to the lower extremities, each injury was counted and analyzed separately. The researchers then looked at data between 2003 and 2005 to analyze the frequency of different types of injuries, their severity, and their outcomes.

Overall Findings Between 2003 and 2005

Between 2003 and 2005, approximately 47,000 motorcyclists were treated in hospital trauma centers for accident-related injuries for an average of 16,000 per year. Out of those, 87% suffered at least one injury that was rated as moderate to severe. An estimated 19,000 cyclists suffered an average of almost two lower-extremity injuries for a total of 36,000 injuries among them. Among those with moderate-to-severe lower-extremity injuries, 10% suffered single injuries to the lower extremities, 9% suffered two or more lower-extremity injuries, and 28% suffered injuries to the lower extremities combined with injuries to other regions of the body. The NHTSA found that 53% of the motorcyclists who were injured in accidents did not suffer any lower-extremity injuries. The researchers then excluded minor injuries and then selected those with the highest level of severity by body region for analyses. They found that the motorcyclists treated in trauma centers had the following distributions of injuries by body region:

  • Lower-extremity injuries - 47%
  • Upper-extremity injuries - 40%
  • Head injuries - 35%
  • Chest injuries - 31%
  • Spinal injuries - 20%
  • Abdominal injuries - 15%
  • Facial injuries - 10%

They found that while lower-extremity injuries were more common than injuries to the head, abdomen, and chest, they also tended to be less severe. Among the lower-extremity injuries, 97% were rated as moderate with only 3% rated as severe. By contrast, 35% of the head injuries were rated at the maximum severity level as were 32% of the chest injuries and 21% of the abdominal injuries.

Lower-Extremity Injuries Grouped by Region

Among the lower-extremity injuries that were rated at a severity level of at least moderate injuries, the researchers found the following distributions by region of the lower extremities:

  • Leg injuries -27%
  • Pelvic injuries - 18%
  • Knee injuries - 16%
  • Thigh injuries - 11%
  • Foot injuries - 10%
  • Ankle injuries - 10%

They then analyzed the various types of injuries that occurred in each region.

Foot Injuries

Among the foot injuries suffered by motorcyclists, the NHTSA found that 84% involved injuries to the tarsal bones, metatarsal bones, heels, and talus bones, which are the bones that make up the lower portion of the ankle. These injuries were further broken down by the specific type of foot injury as follows:

  • Tarsal/metatarsal fractures - 51%
  • Heel fractures - 17%
  • Talus bone fractures - 17%
  • Other unspecified fractures - 14%
  • Amputations and degloving injuries - 1%
Ankle Injuries

Injuries to the distal ends of the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg accounted for 90% of the ankle injuries analyzed by the researchers. Dislocations accounted for another 9%.

Leg Injuries

Among motorcyclists who sustained leg injuries, 95% involved fractures to the fibula and tibia bones of the lower leg. Complete and partial amputations and severe leg crush injuries accounted for 3%. The researchers found the following distributions among the various types of leg injuries in motorcycle crashes:

  • Fracture of the tibia - 52%
  • Fracture of the fibula - 43%
  • Amputation or leg crush injury - 3%
  • Vein and arterial injuries - 1%
  • Laceration of the Achilles tendon - 1%
  • Leg fracture - 1%
Knee Injuries

The researchers found the following distributions of various types of knee injuries in motorcycle crashes:

  • Fracture of the tibia where it meets the knee to form the joint - 37%
  • Fracture of the patella - 18%
  • Laceration of the ligament along the side of the knee - 12%
  • Dislocation of the knee - 10%
  • Fracture of the femur where it meets the knee to form the joint - 9%
  • Knee sprain - 6%
  • Knee laceration into the joint - 3%
  • Meniscus tear - 3%
  • Laceration of the patellar tendon - 3%
Thigh Injuries

Fractures of the femoral shaft accounted for 53% of the thigh injuries researchers analyzed in the study, and 94% were fractures to some portion of the femur. The distributions of thigh injuries found by the researchers were as follows:

  • Femoral shaft fractures - 53%
  • Femoral fractures that were not otherwise specified - 18%
  • Open or displaced femoral fractures - 9%
  • Fractures of the subtrochanteric region of the femur - 8%
  • Suprachondylar femur fractures- 6%
  • Injury to the femoral artery or sciatic nerve - 4%
  • Partial or complete amputation above the knee - 2%
Hip Injuries

The most common type of hip injury in a motorcycle crash was a dislocation at 37%. This was followed by an intertrochanteric femur fracture at 30%, a femoral neck fracture at 27%, and a femoral head fracture at 8%. Hip injuries and fractures can be especially devastating and require months of rehabilitation. Researchers have also found that people who suffer hip fractures have a mortality rate ranging from 14% to 36% during the one year following surgery with those who are older or who have underlying conditions being more at risk.

Pelvic Injuries

The NHTSA found that various types of pelvic fractures accounted for 69% of the pelvic injuries that occurred in motorcycle accidents. Out of these, 17% involved separations of the pubic symphysis, which is the joint that connects the pubic bones at the base of the pelvis by a cartilaginous disc. Researchers found the following distributions of pelvic injuries among victims of motorcycle accidents:

  • Fractured pelvis (with or without dislocation) - 63%
  • Separation/fracture of the pubic symphysis - 17%
  • Fractured sacroiliac joint with/without dislocation (the joint that connects the pelvis to the spine) - 13%
  • Fractured pelvis with substantial displacement/deformation - 7%
Nature of Motorcycle Accidents and Lower-Extremity Injuries

Motorcycle riders have few protections against the environment around them. When they are struck by motor vehicles, their bodies absorb the brunt of the collision. The bodily regions that might be injured will depend on multiple factors, including the height of the other vehicle, the location and angle of the impact, whether the cyclist is thrown from the bike, the speed at which the collision occurs, and others. In many cases, motorcyclists might suffer multiple lower-extremity injuries, and some who do will also suffer injuries to the upper portions of their bodies. Because of this, motorcycle riders are much likelier to sustain serious injuries or to be killed in accidents than other motorists.

Consult an Experienced Los Angeles Motorcycle Accident Lawyer

A motorcycle crash can upend your life. If you suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle crash because of the conduct of another motorist, legal remedies might be available to help you recover full compensation for your losses. The experienced lawyers at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC are prepared to help you understand the merits of your case and your next steps. Call us today for a free consultation at 866.966.5240.

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