March 6, 2017

What is a PCL injury?

Knee | Sports Injury

THIS POST IS PART OF THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SPORTS MEDICINE

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.)

Anatomy

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.

Types of PCL sprain

  • 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.

What causes a PCL injury?

A PCL tear typically requires a powerful force, such as a direct blow to the front of the knee.

What are the symptoms of a PCL injury?

  • Pain with swelling that occurs quickly after the injury
  • Swelling that makes the knee stiff and causes a limp
  • Difficulty walking
  • Knee feels unstable

How is a PCL injury diagnosed?

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.

Make an appointment with a knee specialist at OrthoIndy

How is a PCL injury treated?

If you have only injured your posterior cruciate ligament, in most cases you won’t need surgery. Your physician will begin by prescribing nonsurgical treatment, which will reduce inflammation and pain and improve function.

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.

How do you recover from a PCL injury?

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.
download the active adults guide

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Megan Golden

By Megan Golden

Megan Golden worked at OrthoIndy from 2012 to 2019, where she wrote a variety of content for our blog, magazines and inbound campaigns. Megan graduated from Ball State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and communications studies minor.

Related Posts

More from OrthoIndy

Student finds relief from chronic knee instability

Student finds relief from chronic knee instability

Chronic knee pain was nothing new for Hillary Carnall. But when she found out surgery could cure her pain for good, everything changed.

More

7 tips for working out in cold weather

7 tips for working out in cold weather

You burn more calories training in the cold because your body has to use more energy to keep your body warm. OrthoIndy sports medicine physician, Dr. Chris Bales discusses tips and benefits for cold-weather training.

More

What are the most common snowboarding injuries?

What are the most common snowboarding injuries?

Dr. Michael Thieken, OrthoIndy sports medicine physician, discusses the most common snowboarding injuries and how to prevent them.

More

Get stories and News in your inbox

Subscribe to our weekly articles