What is posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury?
The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is a ligament within the knee. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bones.
The PCL — similar to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) — connects the thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia). Although it is larger and stronger than the ACL, the PCL can be torn.
Injuries that tear the PCL often damage some of the other ligaments or cartilage in the knee, as well. In some cases, the ligament can also break loose a piece of underlying bone.
How common is posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury?
PCL tears make up less than 20% of injuries to knee ligaments. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury?
The common symptoms of posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury are:
- Mild to moderate pain in the knee can cause a slight limp or difficulty walking.
- Knee swelling occurs rapidly, within hours of the injury.
- Your knee might feel loose, as if it’s going to give way.
If there are no associated injuries to other parts of your knee, the signs and symptoms of a posterior cruciate ligament injury can be so mild that you might not notice that anything’s wrong. Over time, the pain might worsen and your knee might feel more unstable. If other parts of your knee have also been injured, your signs and symptoms will likely be more severe.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury?
The posterior cruciate ligament can tear if your shinbone is hit hard just below the knee or if you fall on a bent knee. These injuries are most common during:
- Motor vehicle accidents. A “dashboard injury” occurs when the driver’s or passenger’s bent knee slams against the dashboard, pushing in the shinbone just below the knee and causing the posterior cruciate ligament to tear.
- Contact sports. Athletes in sports such as football and soccer can tear their posterior cruciate ligament when they fall on a bent knee with their foot pointed down. The shinbone hits the ground first and it moves backward. Being tackled when your knee is bent also can cause this injury.
What increases my risk for posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury?
There are many risk factors for posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury, such as:
- Being in a motor vehicle accident
- Participating in sports such as football and soccer
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury diagnosed?
History. Your doctor will ask what you were doing when the injury occurred, such as traveling in a car or playing a sport. He or she will also ask:
- If your knee was bent, straight, or twisted when it was injured
- How your knee felt after the injury
- If you’ve had any symptoms since you were injured
Physical examination. In a common test for PCL injuries, you lie on your back with your knee bent. Your doctor then examines your knee and presses against your upper shin. Abnormal knee movement during this test suggests a PCL injury.
You may also be checked with a device called an arthrometer. This presses against your leg to measure the ligament’s tightness.
Your doctor may also ask you to walk. An abnormal walking motion may point to a PCL injury.
Imaging. X-rays can provide information about a PCL injury. They can detect pieces of bone that may have broken loose from the injury.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a common way to create images of a PCL tear. An MRI can find the exact location of a tear.
With chronic PCL injuries, a bone scan may be needed to look for damage to the bones.
How is posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury treated?
Treatment depends on the extent of your injury and whether it just happened or if you’ve had it for a while. In most cases, surgery isn’t required.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will help make your knee stronger and improve its function and stability. You may also need a knee brace or crutches during your rehabilitation.
If your injury is severe — especially if it’s combined with other torn knee ligaments, cartilage damage or a broken bone — you might need surgery to reconstruct the ligament. Surgery might also be considered if you have persistent episodes of knee instability despite appropriate rehabilitation.
This surgery usually can be performed arthroscopically by inserting a fiber-optic camera and long, slender surgical tools through several small incisions around the knee.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injury:
- Stay off your injured knee and protect it from further damage. You might need crutches.
- Apply ice packs to your knee for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days.
- Wrap an elastic bandage around your knee.
- Lie down and place a pillow under your knee to help reduce swelling.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 1, 2017 | Last Modified: December 6, 2019
Posterior cruciate ligament injury. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcl-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20354855. Accessed November 1, 2017.
Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/posterior-cruciate-ligament-injury. Accessed November 1, 2017.
Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00420. Accessed November 1, 2017.