WHAT IS THE PCL?

The posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL, is located in the back of the knee.  It is one of the ligaments that connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shinbone).  Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect one bone to another.  The main purpose of the PCL is to keep the tibia from moving back too far.  The PCL works in conjunction with the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to bend the knee forward and backward.  It is stronger than the ACL and injured less often.  

PCL INJURY CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS

A PCL injury requires a powerful impact to the knee.  Common accidents that cause damage to the PCL are car accidents, in which bent knees hit the dashboard, or in sports such as football and soccer, where the player falls on bent knees which hit the ground.  An injury to the PCL usually occurs along with injury to other parts of the knee, such as cartilage, bones, or ligaments.  Examples of an injury to the knee that may cause a PCL injury are:

  • A direct blow to the front part of the knee, such as an athletic injury
  • Pulling or twisting the knee, such as hyperextension
  • A misstep, causing you to trip and fall

PCL tears are usually partial tears and can heal on their own, without causing lasting knee stability issues.  Players can usually return to sports without any problems.  

SYMPTOMS OF A PCL INJURY

Symptoms of a PCL injury include:

  • Pain: Mild to moderate knee pain makes it difficult to walk
  • Swelling: Knee swelling happens quickly after the injury
  • Instability: Feeling that the knee may give out, as if it’s loose

If you have only injured your PCL, you may not notice the injury right away.  The pain may build over time and your knee may feel more unstable.  If other parts of the knee have been injured at the same time, then the PCL symptoms may be more severe and evident.  

PCL TREATMENTS

Once a PCL injury has been diagnosed, the PCL treatments can be determined.  Immediately following a PCL injury, you will want to do some at home treatments.  Those include:

  • Rest: Stay off your feet to keep swelling down
  • Ice: Ice the knee for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for the next 2-3 days for pain and swelling
  • Compression: Wrap your knee with an elastic bandage to keep swelling down
  • Elevation: Elevate your knee with a pillow for pain and swelling relief  

Other treatments that may be recommended by the sports medicine doctor are:

  • Medication: Over the counter medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can be taken to relieve pain and swelling
  • Therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help strengthen the knee and improve function and stability  
  • Immobilization: Crutches or a brace may be recommended  
  • Surgery

WHEN SURGERY IS NECESSARY

If you are experiencing intense knee pain or have suffered a severe knee injury, surgery may be necessary.   Dr. Terry Madsen, a top orthopedic surgeon will diagnose and suggest a treatment strategy. If you feel you may have injured your PCL, contact Dr. Terry Madsen for a consultation.

Learn More About PCL Surgery >

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