Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injury

Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury occurs when the PCL is stretched or torn.

The PCL is one of several ligaments that keep your knee stable. The PCL helps keep your leg bones in place and allows your knee to move back and forth. It is the strongest ligament in the knee. PCL tears often occur as a result of a severe knee injury.

A PCL injury occurs when the ligament is stretched or torn. A partial PCL tear occurs when only part of the ligament is torn. A complete PCL tear occurs when the entire ligament is torn into two pieces.

 

Injuring the PCL takes a lot of force. It can occur if you:
  • Get hit very hard on the front of your knee, such as hitting your knee on the dashboard during a car accident
  • Fall hard on a bent knee
  • Bend the knee too far backward (hyperflexion)
  • Land the wrong way after jumping
  • Dislocate your knee

PCL injuries commonly occur with other knee damage, including injuries to the nerves and blood vessels. Skiers and people who play basketball, football, or soccer are more likely to have this type of injury.

With a PCL injury, you may have:
  • Mild pain that may get worse over time
  • Your knee is unstable and can shift as if it "gives way"
  • Knee swelling that starts right after the injury
  • Knee stiffness due to swelling
  • Difficulty walking and going down stairs
After examining your knee, the doctor may order these imaging tests:
  • An MRI of the knee. An MRI machine takes special pictures of the tissues inside your knee. The pictures will show whether these tissues have been stretched or torn.
  • X-rays to check for damage to the bones in your knee.
If you have a PCL injury, you may need:
  • Crutches to walk until the swelling and pain get better
  • A brace to support and stabilize your knee
  • Physical therapy to help improve joint motion and leg strength
  • Surgery to rebuild the PCL and possibly other tissues in the knee

If you have a severe injury, such as a knee dislocation, you will need knee surgery to repair the joint. For milder injuries, you may not need surgery. A lot of people can live and function normally with a torn PCL. However, if you are younger, having a torn PCL and instability of your knee may lead to arthritis as you age. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.