Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injury

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What Are PCL Injuries?

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is located in the back of the knee. It works as one of four core muscles in the knee to control excess movements of the knee joint.

Injuries to the PCL require a strong force. As compared to an ACL injury, an isolated PCL injury may involve swelling in the knee that subsides over a few days or weeks as opposed to intense pain.

Risk factors of PCL injuries

Since PCL injuries usually result from high-force impacts, they are more common among athletes.

Some of the more common contact sports resulting in PCL injuries include:

  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Hockey

PCL injuries occur less commonly in non-contact sports, such as:

  • Gymnastics
  • Skiing

In addition to athletic PCL injuries, these injuries also often occur following vehicle accidents or even the wear and tear of time.

Complications of PCL injuries

When left untreated, PCL injuries can lead to further knee joint injuries.

If you tear your PCL and one or more of the other knee ligaments, you become completely disabled and symptoms intensify.

Why choose UPMC Orthopaedic Care for treatment of PCL injuries?

  • UPMC has one of the highest-funded orthopaedic research departments in the nation, with access to ongoing clinical trials, particularly useful for those with PCL injuries.
  • We offer expert orthopaedic surgery services and treatments to people of all ages to help them get back to enjoying their lives.

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PCL Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis

PCL injury symptoms

Common symptoms of PCL injuries are strongest and most present immediately following a suspected tear, sprain, or strain.

PCL injury symptoms include:

  • Pain immediately following the injury
  • Swelling of the knee
  • Inability to or difficulty walking
  • Knee instability

PCL injury diagnosis

To diagnose a PCL injury, your doctor will ask you a series of questions to gather your medical history. Your doctor will want to learn exactly how the injury occurred and if you have had similar injuries in the past.

After discussing your medical history, your doctor will begin a physical exam of the knee to assess the stability of your knee with a focus on the ligaments. Your doctor may apply force to your knee to observe the way in which it moves.

Based on these factors and your symptoms, your doctor may recommend more tests to diagnose a PCL injury, such as:

  • X-rays to help your doctor gain a closer look at the knee for changes in bone structure over time.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to help your doctor focus on the soft tissues around the knee for the presence of a muscle sprain or tear.

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PCL Injury Treatment

Treatment goals for PCL injuries

At UPMC Orthopaedic Care, we choose PCL injury treatments based on:

  • The extent of your individual injury
  • Age
  • Your desired level of activity

In general, treatment aims to:

  • Restore the range of motion in the knee
  • Stabilize the knee joint
  • Manage pain
  • Decrease swelling

Types of PCL injury treatment

Orthopaedic experts at UPMC offer both nonsurgical and surgical treatments for PCL injuries.

If you have not completely torn your PCL or experience a strain or minor sprain, nonsurgical methods can be very effective in managing this injury.

Common nonsurgical techniques for PCL injuries include:

  • Reducing activity
  • Icing the knee
  • Compressing the injury with a brace or wrap
  • Elevating the knee while at rest
  • Using anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to reduce swelling and speed recovery
  • Using crutches to avoid weight-bearing activities

If nonsurgical treatment methods prove ineffective, your doctor may recommend a surgical approach.

Surgery is a good option when knee injuries occur in conjunction with one another.

Surgical treatment of PCL injuries can involve:

  • PCL rebuilding
  • PCL reconstruction
  • Ligament lengthening

Benefits and risks of PCL injury treatment

Treatments for PCL injuries can be very effective strategies to preserve knee function and mobility. After a fall or force — and related pain and swelling — you should see your doctor to avoid complications associated with the PCL and the knee.

Following PCL surgery, you may have to avoid all weight bearing activities for a few months, depending on your symptoms and medical history. Rest and breaks from weight bearing activities are especially important for those hoping to return to physical activities.

Failure to follow doctors' orders of rest can lead to further difficulties and related complications.

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