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Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury

(PCL Tear)

Pronounced: pos-tea-ree-or kru-shee-ate lig-a-ment

Definition

A posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury is a partial or full tear of the tough band of fibers that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament
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Causes

PCL injury is caused by excess force on the knee. This may be from:

  • A direct blow to the knee
  • Twisting the knee
  • Falling on a bent knee

Risk Factors

Some sports may raise the risk of this injury, such as football and soccer. Being in a motor vehicle accident may also raise the risk.

Symptoms

An injury to the PCL may cause:

  • Pain and swelling in the knee
  • Soreness in the area behind the knee
  • Weakness or instability in the knee
  • Problems walking
  • Pain when moving the knee

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, health history, and how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the knee.

The doctor may suspect a PCL injury based on symptoms. Images may be done to confirm it. This can be done with:

Treatment

The PCL does not heal on its own. The goal is to ease pain and improve movement. This may be done with:

  • Ice and rest to ease pain and swelling
  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • Exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee
  • A brace to keep the knee from moving
  • Crutches to take weight off of the leg

Some people may need surgery. It will remake the PCL with tissue from other areas of the body or from donor tissue.

Prevention

The risk of an ACL injury may be lowered by stretching and strengthening the muscles around the knee and in the front of your thigh.

RESOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

OrthoInfo—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

REFERENCES:

Ligament injuries to the knee. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/orthopaedic_disorders/ligament_injuries_to_the_knee_85,P00926. Accessed March 30, 2020.

Posterior cruciate ligament injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00420. Updated February 2009. Accessed March 30, 2020.

Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS  Last Updated: 3/30/2020