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Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Injury

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What Is a PCL Injury?

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is one of four main ligaments in your knee. These four ligaments work together to limit excess movement in your knee joint.

A PCL injury occurs when you damage or tear the posterior cruciate ligament.

PCL injury causes

The main cause of PCL injuries is a high-force impact to the knee — often from a car accident or contact sports such as:

  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Hockey

PCL injuries can also occur in non-contact sports — such as gymnastics or skiing — but are less common.

PCL injury risk factors

Athletes that play contact sports are at a higher risk of PCL injuries. 

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PCL Tear Symptoms and Diagnosis

PCL sports injury symptoms

Unlike the “pop” and severe pain that may occur with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an isolated PCL tear may simply cause swelling and mild pain in the knee. These symptoms subside over a few days or weeks.

If you've torn the PCL and one or more other knee ligaments, symptoms might include:

  • Severe swelling.
  • The inability to put any weight on the knee.

PCL sports injury diagnosis

To diagnose a PCL tear, your doctor will first ask you how the knee injury occurred and what position your leg was in at the time of injury.

After taking a thorough history, the doctor will perform an exam on your knee to assess the stability of the ligaments.

He or she may also order tests — such as x-rays and an MRI scan of the knee — to get a clear picture of the extent of damage to your PCL. 

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PCL Injury Treatment at UPMC Sports Medicine

Treatment for a PCL injury depends on:

  • The extent of damage to the knee ligament.
  • Your age.
  • Your desired level of activity.

Nonsurgical PCL injury treatment

At UPMC Sports Medicine, nonsurgical PCL tear treatment involves exercises designed to improve:

  • Knee strength.
  • Flexibility.
  • Balance.

You doctor may also suggest that you:

  • Reduce activity until your PCL injury symptoms subside.
  • Ice the knee a few times per day.
  • Compress your knee with a bandage or wrap.
  • Elevate your knee above the level of your heart.
  • Use anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, to reduce swelling and speed healing.

PCL injury prevention

Unfortunately, most PCL tears happen during sports or accidents that you often can't prevent.

But, these tips may help you avoid a PCL injury:

  • Perform strengthening and rehabilitation exercises for your upper leg muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings), which protect your knee.
  • Maintain a proper stretching routine.
  • Use proper form when playing sports or exercising. 

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