Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries are common and often talked about while posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) injuries are often overlooked. This does not mean they are not serious. PCL tears can be just as (if not more) debilitating as ACL tears.
Anatomy of the Knee
The knee joint is held together by four main ligaments: the medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL), anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). These four structures work together to stabilize the knee.
The PCL is located in the back of the knee and attaches the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone). It is often referred to as the “brake” because it prevents the tibia from moving too far backward.
PCL injuries are generally less common than ACL injuries. They occur when there is a force applied to the knee that causes the tibia to move too far backwards, resulting in a tear of the PCL. PCL injuries most commonly occur due to a car accident, a sports collision, or a direct blow to the knee.
Injuries to the PCL can be mild or severe and are classified into three grades:
- Grade 1 refers to a slightly stretched ligament
- Grade 2 refers to a partially torn ligament
- Grade 3 refers to a completely torn ligament
Grades 1 and 2 sprains are treated non-operatively so long as there is no other damage to the surrounding ligaments or tendons in the knee.
Symptoms of a PCL Injury
Symptoms of a PCL injury may include:
- Pain and swelling in the knee
- Feeling of the knee “giving out”
- Knee instability
- Difficulty walking
Diagnosis of a PCL Injury
The diagnosis of a PCL injury will begin with a physical examination by Dr. Hicken. He will look for signs of swelling, tenderness, and instability. He may also test your range of motion and stability.
Imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and to look for other damage in the knee.
Treatment of a PCL Injury
The treatment of a PCL injury will depend on the severity of the injury. For grade I and II sprains, treatment will focus on reducing pain and swelling. This can be done with the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and physical therapy.
Physical therapy will focus on strengthening the muscles around the knee to help stabilize the joint.
For grade III PCL injuries, surgery may be necessary to repair the ligament. During the procedure, Dr. Hicken detaches the damaged ligament and replaces it with a ligament graft, that’s taken from the patient’s hamstrings or those of a cadaver. The goal of this procedure is to stabilize the knee joint and return the PCL to its normal anatomical position in the knee.
PCL injuries can be serious but with proper treatment, most people will make a full recovery. If you think you may have injured your PCL, contact Dr. Hicken at 435-787-2000.