The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is a tissue band in the knee, which helps connect the femur to the tibia and its counterpart, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Posterior cruciate ligament injuries are knee conditions that occur when the tibia suffers a blow just below the knee. PCL injuries can occur during:
Motor Vehicle Accidents (also known as "dashboard injuries"): When a bent knee hits a vehicle dashboard during an accident, it results in the sudden pushing in of the tibia and subsequent tearing of the PCL.
Contact Sports: When an athlete falls on a bent knee during sports, and their tibia hits the ground first.
Symptoms of a PCL Injury
The following are symptoms associated with a PCL injury:
Pain: Discomfort that can be mild to moderate, resulting in limping while walking.
Swelling: After the injury, swelling in the knee can occur rapidly in a matter of hours.
Instability: A wobbly sensation when walking as if the knee is almost giving way.
While a PCL injury associated with other knee conditions might be severe, a PCL injury on its own might be so mild that it is hardly noticeable. Nonetheless, the damage could worsen with time.
How PCL Injury is Diagnosed
First, the orthopedic surgeon will collect the patient’s medical history. They will also need to know when the injury occurred, what the patient was doing, the posture of the knee during the accident, symptoms following the accident, etc.
Next, the orthopedic surgeon will perform a physical examination. You can expect the physician to manual press against the tibia to detect abnormal knee movement, measure the ligament's tightness using an arthrometer, and request X-rays or an MRI. An orthopedic surgeon may also request a bone scan to detect bone damage in chronic PCL injuries.
PCL injuries are graded according to the degree of severity in ascending order as follows:
Grade I: Partial PCL tear
Grade II: Partially torn PCL with lesser tightness than Grade I
Grade III: Completely torn PCL with knee instability
Grade IV: PCL is damaged along with another knee ligament
How PCL Injury is Treated
Acute Grade I and II PCL injuries with no other associated knee injuries do not require surgery. Treatment entails physical therapy with gradual rehabilitation. However, posterior cruciate ligament injuries involving torn and loose pieces of bone or other ligament injuries or chronic PCL looseness may require an orthopedic surgeon's services.
The orthopedic surgeon may fasten the bone that's torn off back in place using a screw. A torn PCL is usually replaced with new tissue instead of stitching it together. After surgery, the patient may require between 26 and 52 weeks to recover fully.
Schedule an Appointment with an Orthopedist
In case you suspect you may have suffered a PCL injury; you may need to consult an orthopedic surgeon to get your knee evaluated. A quick physical exam will help in your diagnosis. Gustavel Orthopedics is the leading provider of sports medicine and orthopedic specialties in Boise, ID. Dr. Gustavel is a renowned orthopedic surgeon and is well experienced in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal injuries related to sports and exercise. Contact us to make your appointment now!