PCL Injury (Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury)

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The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is connective tissue located within the knee. The PCL connects the thighbone to the shinbone. This connection keeps the shinbone from moving too far backward, stabilizing the knee. Treatment depends on the severity of the posterior cruciate ligament injury.

posterior cruciate ligament
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The PCL ligament can become strained or torn when a strong force is applied to it. This force can occur during sports or other high-stress activity.


The following factors increase your chance of injuring the PCL:

  • Sports injury
  • Motor vehicle accident
  • Fall on a bent knee
  • Strong force to the leg immediately below the kneecap
  • Knee dislocation

Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Symptoms

A PCL tear may cause:

  • Pain and swelling in the knee
  • Soreness in the area behind the knee
  • Weakness or instability in the knee
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pain when moving the knee


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Images may need to be taken of the internal structure of your knee. This can be done with:

  • X-ray
  • MRI

Ligament sprains are graded according to their severity:

  • Grade 1—Mild ligament damage.
  • Grade 2—Partial tearing of the ligament.
  • Grade 3—Complete tearing of the ligament.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time depends on the grade of your injury.

Supportive Care

Your ligament will need time to heal. RICE is often the main part of treatment:

  • Rest — You may need to restrict activities at first. Gradually resume activities as the injury heals.
  • Ice — Ice therapy may help relieve swelling. Your doctor may advise you to use heat as you begin to resume normal activities.
  • Compression — Compression bandages can provide gentle pressure to help move fluids out of the area.
  • Elevation — Elevate the knee to help fluids drain out or prevent fluids from building up.

Your doctor may recommend a knee brace to stabilize the knee and crutches to keep extra weight off your leg. You can also take over-the-counter medication to reduce pain.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists assess the knee and may create an exercise program to help recovery and to stretch and strengthen the muscles.


You may need surgery to fully restore function of the knee. Your doctor will discuss your athletic needs, age and associated factors with you. 


Some steps that may help decrease your chance of getting a Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury include:

  • Protect your knees by doing regular strengthening exercises for your thighs.
  • Maintain proper technique when exercising or playing sports.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.