Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury

What is Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury?

An injury to the Posterior Cruciate Ligament is one that affects a thick band of tissue found in the back of the knee connecting the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia). Often associated with contact sports or a severe impact or strain to a flexed knee, it’s usually coupled with related knee injuries such as ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear.

Causes of PCL Injuries

PCL injuries can be caused by a hard hit to a bent knee, as would be the case while sitting in a car. It can also be caused by hard blow while the knee is flexed while walking, running, or jogging. A severe PCL injury may also cause part of an adjacent bone to break. Osteoarthritis sometimes develops in the knee where a PCL injury occurs.

What are the Symptoms of Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury?

  • Knee pain (either sharp or persistent)
  • Swelling around the affected area
  • Instability or wobbling while standing
  • Difficulty placing full weight on the knee while walking

Posterior Cruciate Ligament Causes

A posterior cruciate ligament injury is an injury that is caused to the ligament when it is bent while receiving a blow. This can happen from a number of accidents both in vehicles and while playing sports. One common way to get this injury is to strike the knee against a vehicle’s dashboard during an accident. Another way it to fall down onto the knee while it is a bent position. Sports injuries commonly result in this type of injury. Sports including baseball, football, skiing, and soccer can all lead to this type of leg injury. It can also occur when the shin bone is struck in the region just below the knee.

There are two main types of posterior cruciate ligament injuries, and each has its own main cause. An acute PCL injury is caused by a sudden injury. The chronic type of PCL is an injury caused over a longer period of time.

How is Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Treated?

A device called an arthrometer may be used to determine ligament tightness. Image testing will confirm any damage to the ligament and the extent of the damage. Treatment usually involves the PRICE method:

  • Protection of the affected knee additional injuries
  • Rest to allow for healing of the ligament
  • Ice applications to reduce inflammation
  • Compression of the knee to minimize movement
  • Elevation of the knee as much as possible to facilitate healing

The posterior cruciate ligament is important because it prevents the knee from moving too far backwards. Injury can make it difficult to maintain stability. Due to the location of this ligament, damage is often less severe than an ACL tear or strain and oftentimes heals on its own with little or no significant treatment other than temporary modification of activities.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Prevention

Because so many PCL injuries happen quickly due to accidents, it can be difficult to prevent them. However, there are some measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of this type of accident. Stretching before engaging in strenuous sports activities can lessen the risk. Regularly stretching in between sports matches and exercise sessions can also be helpful. Keeping a wide range of motion is the ultimate goal in preventing the injury. The joints will be further stabilized by doing leg exercises which strengthen the muscles. While engaged in sports, be careful not to fall on the knee or to overextend it during play. If possible, keep your knee below the dashboard so that it won’t strike against it in the event of an accident. Sitting further away from the dashboard while riding in a vehicle can also be helpful in reducing risk.

Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018
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