If you are an avid sports fan, you may have heard about a specific type of injury called a PCL injury. PCL injuries are common within various sports, but ordinary people are capable of suffering this type of injury as well.
What Is a PCL?
The PCL, or posterior cruciate ligament, is a ligament in the knee. It is located behind the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament.
Together, they connect the femur, or thigh bone, to the tibia, or shin bone. These two ligaments help provide stability to the knee joint and provide the range of movement that we are accustomed to having.
The PCL is larger and stronger than the ACL. However, it is possible for the PCL to become injured.
Because it is one of the larger ligaments in the knee, injuries to the PCL are often severe enough to also damage other components of the knee joint. This means that accidents that cause PCL injuries may also result in other torn ligaments in the knee.
Causes of PCL Injuries
There are two main causes of PCL injuries. One major cause is automobile accidents. Car crashes may violently force an occupant’s knee into the dash, causing injury. These types of injures are only likely in cases where the collision is serious or if an occupant is not wearing a seatbelt.
The other major cause is falling onto the knee. While this can happen to anyone, it most commonly happens during sporting activities. This is especially true of sports that require lots of running, such as football and soccer. Skiers and skaters also frequently suffer PCL injuries.
Preventing PCL injuries may not be easy in the case of car crashes outside of driving more safely, but various kinds of safety equipment may be used in certain sports to prevent injury, such as knee guards.
Types of PCL Injuries
According to WebMD, PCL injuries come in four different grades, which doctors use to evaluate severity, treatment, and prognosis of PCL injuries.
- Grade 1: The PCL is slightly torn or sprained.
- Grade 2: The PCL is more significantly torn and looser than in grade 2.
- Grade 3: The PCL is completely torn in two.
- Grade 4: The PCL as well as another ligament in the knee was damaged.
Grades 1 and 2 are less serious injuries and may not even cause initial discomfort. However, pain is likely to set in as a person goes about their daily routine. Grades 3 and 4 are severe injuries which may require invasive and intensive medical interventions in order to treat properly.
Diagnosing a PCL Injury
A physician will examine your knee while asking you questions about pain and how the injury happened. Your doctor will check for signs such as swelling and may ask you to walk, if possible, in order to observe how your knee moves. A PCL injury will likely cause the knee to move unusually, especially under pressure.
X-rays may be ordered to see if there are any bone fractures along with your PCL injury. MRI may instead be ordered in order to image the ligament itself. This can help doctors determine exactly where the tear is.
Treating a PCL Injury
Basic home remedies to help with the injury include keeping the knee elevated and applying ice periodically to the knee. Pain medications can provide relief. If the pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe prescription pain pills. Elastic bandages may be used to compress the area and keep the swelling down.
Grade 1 and 2 PCL injuries can often recover on their own and will likely not require surgery to correct. The higher grade injuries, however, may require invasive surgeries in order for them to heal properly.
In the case of total PCL tears, a physician will have to operate on your knee for it to get better. If the PCL is torn due to a section of bone it is attached to fracturing off, then the surgeon may only need to use a screw to reattach the ligament.
If the PCL has completely torn in two, then the surgeon will have to replace the PCL with entirely new ligament tissue. This may be accomplished from a deceased donor, or the surgeon may opt to remove a bit of ligament tissue from the patient’s own body to replace the torn ligament.
Prognosis and Recovery
Many patients recovering from PCL injuries, including those suffering from lower grade injuries, require physical therapy in order to regain full range of motion in their knee and use of their leg.
Patients with lower grade injuries typically can eventually return to sporting activities. Those with higher grade injuries may be able to do so after extensive care and therapy is provided.
Surgery to correct a severe PCL tear may take between 6 months to a year to fully heal, and it may take a year or two of physical therapy to return full function to the knee.
Many people who experience PCL tears eventually suffer from osteoarthritis in the affected knee. This complication may appear between 15 to 25 years after the initial injury.
Knowing the Dangers of PCL Tears
PCL tears can be a serious injury affecting car accident victims and various athletes.
While some PCL injuries can badly effect quality of life temporarily, many patients are able to recover completely.