Posterior Cruciate Ligament Tear (PCL Tear)

Editor: Dr. Amy Spencer, PT, DPT, OCS, MTC, CSCS, CKTP - A Board Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy and Certified Manual Therapist. Owner and Physical Therapist, Specialized Physical Therapy in North Reading, MA.

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is similar to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and connects the thigh bone (femur) to your shin bone (tibia). Specialized Physical Therapy Posterior Cruciate Ligament TearAlthough it is larger and stronger than the ACL, the PCL can still be torn. PCL tears are much less common than ACL tears and make up less than 20% of injuries to knee ligaments. Injuries that tear the PCL often damage some of the other ligaments or cartilage in the knee. In some cases, the ligament can also break loose a piece of underlying bone.

Causes of a PCL Tear:

PCL injuries are often caused by a blow to the knee while it’s bent and they are often associated with traumatic injuries rather than sports injuries.
Common causes of a PCL Tear include:

  • Striking the knee against the dashboard during an auto accident
  • Falling on the knee while it is bent
  • Injuries incurred during sports such as baseball, skiing, soccer, and football

Symptoms of a PCL Tear:

Symptoms of a PCL tear include swelling, pain, decreased strength, and reduced mobility of your knee. Upon examination, a PCL tear is that the lower leg (tibia) sags backwards with respect to the end of the thigh bone (femur). Most people don’t feel or hear a popping sensation in their knee after a PCL injury.

Treatment of a PCL Tear:

Partial PCL tears are typically treated non-operatively with a long course of intensive physical therapy to strengthen the surrounding muscles that control your knee. Complete PCL tears often require surgical treatment to regain knee stability. Whether you undergo surgery or not, the physical therapy techniques are aimed at restoring as much knee function as possible. For those patients that elect not to have surgery, physical therapy will assist in decreasing pain and swelling, increasing range of motion and strength and gradually re-introducing physical activities. When surgical repair is performed on the tear, rehabilitation will take longer. Physical therapy will be focused on controlling pain and swelling in the knee, recovery of range of motion and strength, and gradually returning to full mobility. Strengthening exercises are a crucial component to any physical therapy program. A highly-trained physical therapist will make sure that these exercises are performed safely based on your rehabilitation progression. In either case, therapy is extremely important to help maintain knee joint function and decrease the amount of degenerative damage.

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Specialized Physical Therapy practices a comprehensive approach to total muscle, joint, and spine health. We are the preferred physical therapy clinic in Greater Boston, because we offer an extensive range of physical therapy services designed to restore your physical strength and mobility while reducing your pain. Our physical therapy clinic sets itself apart by:

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  • Treating one patient at a time in our private treatment room to make sure that you get the personalized care and attention you need.
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