Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury (PCL Injury) Overview
The PCL, or posterior cruciate ligament, is located in the center of the knee joint and helps keep the knee stable. The PCL prevents the shin bone (tibia) from sliding too far backwards and keeps the shin bone in position below the thigh bone (femur). PCL injuries commonly occur when impact is made to the front of the knee. While not as common as an ACL injury, a person is at risk for a PCL injury when the knee is bent and an object strikes the shin in a backwards motion, such as in an automobile collision when the shin hits the dashboard. PCL injuries also occur in sports or athletic activities when the patient falls on an outstretched leg and hyperextends the knee. Austin, Texas orthopedic knee specialist, Dr. Jeff Padalecki specializes in treating patients with a PCL injury, such as a posterior cruciate ligament tear.
PCL Injury Symptoms
Swelling and pain are the most common symptoms of a PCL injury. Because of the vascular nature of the PCL, swelling tends to occur very soon after the injury from the internal bleeding at the point of impact. Loss of motion and a feeling of instability are also common with this type of injury.
PCL Injury Diagnostic Testing
Dr. Padalecki will conduct a thorough examination of the knee and will perform specific tests such as the posterior drawer test or reverse Lachman’s test. During these exams, he will look for any deformities or changes in the appearance of the knee in comparison to the uninjured one. A variety of imaging tests may be utilized to determine the extent of the injury by using X-rays or an MRI. Dr. Padalecki may perform stress X-rays of the injured limb.
PCL Injury Treatment
The treatment for a PCL injury is more conservative versus that of an ACL injury. However the decision of whether or not surgery is necessary will be determined based on the severity of the injury itself and the results of the tests.
Most minor PCL injuries are treated by the RICE technique – rest, ice, compression and elevation. You may need the use of crutches for a period of time or be placed in a knee brace to restrict movement of the knee and allow it to heal. Use of anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and pain relievers may also relieve discomfort and help diminish the swelling. You may require the assistance of a physical therapist to strengthen the surrounding muscles of the knee and increase flexibility.
Surgery is necessary in more severe instances and when serious instability is present – primarily when there is a tear to the PCL or there is other associated ligament injuries to the same knee. Dr. Padalecki will perform a PCL reconstruction, which replaces the torn ligament and restores stability to the knee.
You will be required to wear a brace for at least 6 months following the surgery. A rehabilitation program will be prescribed at your first post-operative visit with Dr. Padalecki. Initially, the therapy will focus on returning motion back to the injured knee and surrounding muscles while protecting the healing ligament. After that is achieved, you will follow a progressive strengthening program to and eventually return to activities.
For additional resources on ligament injuries to the knee, or to learn more about the treatment for a PCL injury, please contact the office of Dr. Jeff Padalecki, orthopedic knee specialist in Austin, Texas.