PCL Injuries

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Posterior cruciate ligament or PCL injuries are much less common and more difficult to detect than other knee ligament injuries. Cartilage injuries, bone bruises and ligament injuries often occur in combination with PCL injuries. The most likely scenario for a PCL injury to occur is as a result of the knee receiving a direct impact. Often sports, motor vehicle accidents or activities that overextend the knee cause the PCL to tear.

Although PCL injuries occur less frequently, OrthoAspen has a team of elite-grade specialists dedicated to treating knee conditions. Our goal is to ensure that our patients can return to their active lifestyles as safely and quickly as possible.


The PCL is one of four major ligaments of the knee and is located at the back of the knee. It connects the thigh bone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia). The PCL limits the backward motion of the shinbone. It’s perhaps easy to see why a traumatic impact and overextension of the knee leads to tearing of the PCL.

Patients with PCL injuries usually experience symptoms immediately after the injury, which include:

  • Pain and swelling
  • Instability in the knee joint
  • Stiffness in the knee
  • Difficulty walking (causing limping)

Diagnosis of a PCL tear is made based on symptoms, medical history, and a thorough physical examination of the knee. Other diagnostic tests such as X-rays and MRI scans may be ordered. X-rays are useful to rule out avulsion fractures (when the PCL tears off a piece of bone along with it).

PCL tears are diagnosed according to three grades of sprains:

  • Grade One Sprain
    The ligament is mildly damaged and slightly stretched, but the knee joint is stable.
  • Grade Two Sprain
    There is partial tear of the ligament.
  • Grade Three Sprain
    There is a complete tear of the ligament, causing the ligament to divide into two halves making the knee joint unstable.

Treatment may include non-surgical and surgical options. At OrthoAspen, we’re committed to helping treat patients utilizing the safest and most effective options. Our goal is to have you back in motion, enjoying the activities to which you’re accustomed.

Non-surgical treatment consists of:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

These non-surgical treatments are referred to as the RICE protocol, and are designed to aid in controlling pain and swelling. Physical therapy may be recommended to improve knee motion and strength. A knee brace may be needed to help immobilize the knee. Crutches may be recommended to protect the knee and avoid bearing weight on the leg.

Generally, surgery is considered in patients with a dislocated knee and several torn ligaments including the PCL. Surgery involves reconstructing the torn ligament using a tissue graft taken from another part of your body, or a donor.

Surgery is usually carried out with an arthroscope using small incisions. The major advantages of this technique include:

  • Minimal postoperative pain
  • Short hospital stay
  • Rapid recovery

Following PCL reconstruction, a rehabilitation program will be started to help you resume a wider range of activity.

A complete recovery may take about six to 12 months.

PCL Injuries in Children

PCL injuries most often occur in children who participate in high-speed sports, such as basketball and soccer. These injuries occur more commonly in teenagers than in younger children.

Often, in children younger than the age of 12, the bone where the PCL attaches breaks off. As PCL injuries commonly occur as a result of motor vehicle and industrial accidents, the incidence of these injuries is very low in children.

Surgery is not usually necessary to treat PCL injuries, but if an injury displaces the piece of bone along with the PCL, your child may have surgery to reattach it again.

The outcome of the treatment is dependent on age. Younger children may develop arthritic symptoms later in life if surgical treatment is not provided.

If you or your child have sustained a PCL injury, we encourage you to contact us to set up an appointment. Click here or call us at 970-544-1289.


Visit OrthoAspen in two convenient locations
Aspen Clinic
Aspen Valley Hospital
0401 Castle Creek Rd., Suite 2100,

Aspen, CO 81611
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400
Basalt Clinic
Midvalley Medical Center
1450 E. Valley Rd., Suite 201,

Basalt, CO 81621
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400