One of the four ligaments of the knee is called the posterior cruciate ligament, also known as the PCL. The location of the PCL lines up with the knee joint and connects the tibia to the medial condyle of the femur. The main function of the PCL is to stabilize the bones during any movement. With each movement the knee makes, the PCL rotates and prevents the femur from dislocating from the anterior edge of the tibia. With a torn PCL, there can be serious damage to the knee ligaments or cartilage if not treated properly.
Torn PCL Causes
Some of the injuries that can cause a torn PCL are as follows:
- Falling on your knee or knees
- Hitting your knee on rough surface
- Hitting your knee against the dashboard in a car accident
- Sports injury
Whether you are experiencing a partial or complete tear of the PCL, the symptoms are likely to be the same. Some of the symptoms of a torn PCL or PCL injury are:
- Knee pain
- Trouble Walking
- Unstable when walking
- Trouble bearing weight on your knee
- Wobbly feeling in the knee
- Pain when kneeling
- Limited movement
When diagnosing a PCL injury, there are four different levels or grades that can classified. The following are the grades of injury from a torn PCL:
- Grade 1: A partial tear in the PCL
- Grade 2: A partially torn ligament that is looser than a partial tear in Grade 1.
- Grade 3: Your knee or knees are unstable and there is a clean-cut complete tear in the ligament.
- Grade 4: Not only is there a torn PCL but the cartilage and ligament in the surrounding areas are also damaged.
A doctor can diagnosis a torn PCL by examining both knees to compare their ability to move. If there is a visible injury, an x-ray of the knee can help determine the severity of the situation. Some other tests that doctors can order for a patient with a torn PCL are an MRI scan or arthroscopy (which is a camera-guided knee surgery).
Most doctors will inform their patients that resting on a torn PCL is a healthy way to heal it properly. Taking medications such as an anti-inflammatory drug, Aleve, Advil or Motrin can help relieve pain. Use ice packs on the knee to help decrease any bruising or swelling. Keep the knee elevated and do not stand for extended periods of time.
The treatment of a torn PCL depends on the grade level. For example, if the injury falls between levels 1 and 2, then your leg and knee will need to be placed in a straight-leg cast. This helps the torn PCL heal properly while limiting your movement. If your injury is a grade 3 or 4, then surgery may be the best option. During surgery, doctors will help reattach the torn PCL using screws. However, if the PCL is completely unrepairable, then a doctor will use an autograft to help replace the unrepairable tissue of the PCL.
A full recovery of a torn PCL can take anywhere from 4 to 12 months, depending on the seriousness of the injury.
If a torn PCL is not treated properly, this can lead to osteoarthritis in the knee. Osteoarthritis is when there is constant joint pain and stiffness in the knee and other parts of the body. While aging and obesity can be major causes of osteoarthritis, an untreated torn PCL can cause major problems in your future. A one size fits all answer does not apply to the prevention of a torn PCL, but there are some things that can help:
- Exercising regularly
- Avoid sitting to close to the dashboard in a car (to prevent hitting it if there is a car accident)
- Do not over exercise an already torn PCL or knee injury
- Take a break or rest from a sports practice
- Stretch before you engage in any sports activities
- Do not push yourself or your body over the limit
- Wear comfortable shoes that help support your body and feet