Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injury

The PCL is one of the ligaments at the back of the inside of your knee that connects the shinbone (tibia) to the thighbone (femur). Its job is to keep your shinbone from shifting too far back. Off all the ligaments in your knee, PCL injuries are the least common but recovery can take months and as with the other ligaments, may lead to arthritis later in life.

Measuring a PCL Injury

There are three types of PCL injury:

  • Grade 1: Partial tear
  • Grade 2: Partial tear that loosens the ligament
  • Grade 3: Complete tear that destabilizes the knee

If you have a PCL injury, it will be classified into one of three categories

Symptoms of a PCL Injury

The most obvious symptom is pain in the knee. As with an ACL injury, however, you may also hear a popping sound when damage occurs. Other symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • A loose feeling in the knee
  • Inability to put weight on the knee

For severe pain, see your doctor immediately. A simple examination will usually uncover a PCL injury, although an X-ray or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan may also be required.

Preventing Injury

The best way to avoid a PCL injury is to properly warm up and cool down before and after exercise. Certain flexibility exercises focus specifically on the knees. If participating in an activity that involves a high risk of knee damage, wear appropriate safety gear.

Treatment

If you suspect you have suffered a PCL injury, begin treatment at home with the RICE method:

  • Rest the joint as much as possible
  • Ice the joint at 15-minutes intervals every hour
  • Compress (support) the joint with a brace or bandage
  • Elevate the leg above the level of your heart

Following diagnosis, there are a number of potential treatment options. For a grade 1 or 2 injury, physio work and strengthening may bring a full recovery. Your doctor might also recommend a brace and if you’re unable to bear weight, crutches.

Another important therapy is movement therapy, which involves moving your leg through its range of motion. This is done by hand, in a pool or with a machine.

Grade 3 injuries require surgery to reattach the ligament to the bone.  Arthroscopy, or keyhole, surgery is the most common type, but more complicated cases may involve open knee surgery.

For all three categories, effective pain relief medication may be purchased over the counter. Please consult your doctor or pharmacist.