Posterior Cruciate Ligament Tears

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is one of four ligaments that helps support the knee and protects the shin bone (tibia) from sliding too far backwards. The cruciate ligaments are located inside the knee joint and cross over each other, forming an “X”. The anterior cruciate ligament is in the front and the posterior cruciate ligament is located behind it in the back of the knee. These ligaments control the back and forth motion of the knee.

Injury to the PCL most commonly occurs when the knee is bent and an object strikes the shin, pushing it backwards. This is commonly referred to as a “dashboard injury” because it often happens during a car accident when the shin is forcefully pushed into the dashboard. A PCL tear may also be caused by a sports injury or a fall. In many cases, a posterior cruciate ligament tear occurs along with injuries to other parts of the knee, including other ligaments, cartilage and and bone.

Symptoms Of A PCL Tear

Individuals with PCL tears may experience pain,swelling and limited range of motion within the knee. Some people may also experience a feeling that the knee has popped or given out, as it causes instability within the joint. In most cases, a PCL tear will make it difficult to walk.

Diagnosis Of A PCL Tear

A PCL tear is diagnosed through a physical examination of the knee. Additional imaging tests may include an X-ray or an MRI scan which can show clearer images of a posterior cruciate ligament tear and help to determine if other knee ligaments or cartilage are also injured. A diagnostic arthroscopy may also be performed to view detailed images of the tear.

Treatment Of A PCL Tear

Treatment for a PCL tear varies based on the severity of the injury, but it is commonly treated with conservative methods that may include:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Gentle compression
  • Elevation
  • Immobilization with a knee brace

A physical therapy program may help to strengthen and restore function to the knee. If there is significant swelling that interferes with the mobility of the knee, a joint aspiration procedure may be performed to drain any excess fluid from the joint. In severe cases, when the ligament has torn completely and not healed properly, surgery may be necessary to repair or rebuild the ligament.