Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injuries

Less common than anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, the posterior cruciate ligament is often damaged at the same time as other parts of the knee.

About PCL injuries

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is a thick band of tissue that joins the back of the shin bone to the inside of the thigh bone. It forms a cross with the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which runs through the middle of knee.

The PCL stops the knee bending backwards – or hyperextending – and stabilises it during rotational movements.

Your PCL can be torn through force to the front of your knee when it's in a flexed position. Most commonly, it's caused by:

  • a fall onto a bent knee
  • impact on a dashboard in a car crash
  • during a tackle in sport

Physiotherapy can help improve PCL damage, but if your symptoms don't get better, or if there is a complete tear, your orthopaedic surgeon may recommend surgery.

Symptoms of a PCL injury

A torn PCL makes you feel unstable when going downhill or walking down stairs, or when twisting or pivoting. You may experience moderate pain after the injury and there will be immediate swelling.

Diagnosis of a PCL injury

If your symptoms suggest a torn PCL, your consultant will carefully examine you and recommend an MRI scan to assess the damage.

Treatment of PCL injuries

Self care

Most minor soft tissue injury can be managed at home with rest and anti inflammatories such as ibuprofen.

Physiotherapy

PCL damage can be improved through physiotherapy. Your physiotherapist will give you exercises to help widen your range of motion and to build up muscle around your knee.

Surgery

Depending on your activity levels and profession, your surgeon may offer PCL reconstruction.

The operation is usually carried out through keyhole surgery (arthroscopically). The ligament is repaired by grafting a tendon (either from your own leg, or from a donor) in place of the PCL.

Complete recovery from surgery can take from six to 12 months.

“I had a great experience at the Cromwell Hospital; the staff were amazing, and is another level of professionalism compared to other hospitals I’ve stayed in.”

Lorne, Bupa Cromwell patient

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Published: 14 January 2020 | Review: 14 January 2023

Disclaimer: This information is published by Cromwell Hospital and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence and experience from over 30 years of treating patients. It has been peer reviewed by Cromwell Hospital doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. If you have any feedback on the content of this patient information document please email info@cromwellhospital.com or telephone 020 7460 5901.