A ligament is a band of tissue that connects bone to bone. The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is located inside your knee joint and connects the bones of your upper and lower leg.
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.
The PCL is one of several ligaments that help 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.
Injuring the PCL takes a lot of force. It can occur if you:
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:
You also may notice that your knee feels unstable or seems to "give way" when you move it. Sometimes you can have a PCL injury with only mild pain, but over time, the pain gets worse.
After examining your knee, your doctor may send you to have an MRI. An MRI is a device that can take pictures of the tissues inside your knee. The pictures will show whether these tissues have been stretched or torn. You also may have an X-ray to see if there is any damage to the bones in your knee.
If you have a PCL injury, you may need:
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. Some people can live and function normally with a torn PCL. However, if you are younger, having a torn PCL may lead to arthritis symptoms as you age. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.
Follow R.I.C.E. to help reduce pain and swelling:
You can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) to reduce pain and swelling. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps with pain, but not swelling. You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
If you have surgery to repair your PCL:
If you do NOT have surgery to repair your PCL:
Call your doctor if:
If you have surgery, call the doctor if you have:
Cruciate ligament injury - aftercare; PCL injury - aftercare
Curtis C, Bienkowski P, Micheli LJ. Posterior cruciate ligament sprain. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 67.
Honkamp NJ, Ranawat AS, Harner CD. Knee. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee &Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:1683-1718.
Miller RH III, Azar F. Knee injuries. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:2160-2176.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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