The posterior cruciate ligament is located in the back of the knee. It is one of several ligaments that connect the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone).
Two bones meet to form your knee joint: your femur (upper leg bone) and tibia (lower leg bone). Your patella (kneecap) sits in front of the joint. Bones are connected to other bones by ligaments.
There are four primary ligaments in your knee: medial collateral ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, lateral collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). They act like strong ropes to hold the bones together and keep your knee stable.
Cruciate ligaments are found inside your knee joint. By crossing each other they form an “X” with the anterior cruciate ligament in front and the PCL in back. The cruciate ligaments control the back and forth motion of your knee.
The PCL keeps the shinbone from moving backwards too far. It is stronger than the anterior cruciate ligament and is therefore injured less often.
Many times a posterior cruciate ligament injury occurs in conjunction with injuries to other structures in the knee such as cartilage, other ligaments, menisci and bone.
Injured ligaments are considered “sprains” and are graded on a severity scale:
- Grade 1 Sprains: The ligament is mildly damaged; it has been slightly stretched, but is still able to help keep the knee joint stable.
- Grade 2 Sprains: Stretches the ligament to the point where it becomes loose; often referred to as a partial tear of the ligament.
- Grade 3 Sprains: Commonly referred to as a complete tear of the ligament; the ligament has been split into two pieces, and the knee joint is unstable.
PCL tears tend to be partial tears with the potential to heal on their own. People who have injured just their PCL are usually able to return to sports without surgery, unless it is a Grade 3 sprain; however, even with some grade 3 sprains, patients are able to return to many activities without surgery.
A PCL tear typically requires a powerful force, such as a direct blow to the front of the knee.
PCL injury symptoms
- Pain with swelling that occurs quickly after the injury
- Swelling that makes the knee stiff and causes a limp
- Difficulty walking
- Knee feels unstable
To determine whether you have a PCL injury, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and how the injury occurred, and conduct a physical examination.An X-ray or MRI may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other problems.
If you have only injured your posterior cruciate ligament, in most cases you won’t need surgery. Nonsurgical options include
- Gentle compression
- Physical therapy
If you have other ligament injuries in addition to your PCL injury, you may need surgery. Surgery is usually done arthroscopically using small incisions. This less invasive technique will have less pain and less time spent in the hospital. Recovery time is also shorter.
Recovery after a PCL tear
Whether you have surgery or not, a physical therapy program will help to regain knee strength and motion. The more dedicated you are to therapy, the better and faster your results. Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury.
Learn more about having knee pain treated at OrthoIndy.