What is a PCL (Posterior Cruciate Ligament) Injury?
One of the most common problems involving the knee joint is a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear.
The posterior cruciate ligament is one of four ligaments that are critical to the stability of the knee joint. Your PCL originates from the medial aspect of the medial femoral condyle and branches into two bundles. The posteromedial and anterolateral bundle, before inserting into the posterior aspect of the tibia. (Margheritini et al., 2002)
The PCL is made of sturdy fibrous material and functions to control excessive motion by limiting joint mobility. In particular, it resists hyperextension, posterior tibial displacement and provides a rotational axis and stability. It prevents excessive tibial external rotation. (Magee D., 2008)
Of the four major ligaments of the knee, the PCL injury is the least common knee ligament injury. It is responsible for between 3% and 23% of knee injuries. It has a cross-sectional area 1.5 times that of your ACL. (DeBurca N. 2010, Brown JR, Trojian TH. 2004)
What Causes a PCL Injury?
A PCL injury usually occurs by forced hyperextension or a posterior translation of the tibia. It is common in motor vehicle accidents (knee into dashboard) and a sports-related injury (landing in a kneeling position or hyperextension). Your PCL can also be injured in high rotational injuries and associated with an ACL or MCL injury. (Margheritini et al., 2002)
What are the Symptoms of a PCL Tear?
Several methods make the diagnosis of a PCL injury. Patients who have a PCL injury can sometimes be unaware and may notice disability rather than instability. Symptoms are often vague. Unlike an ACL injury, when many will hear or feel a “pop” in their knee, PCL injuries can be silent in isolation. (Brown JR, Trojian TH. 2004, Margheritini et al., 2002)
How is a PCL Tear Diagnosed?
On examination, your physiotherapist or sports doctor will look for clinical signs of posterior instability of the knee. These specialised tests place stress on the PCL and can detect a torn ligament and the extent of the PCL tear.
An MRI may also be used to determine if the posterior cruciate ligament is ruptured or overstretched., and also to look for signs of any associated injuries in the knee, such as bone bruising, meniscus damage and other ligament damage.
How is a PCL Tear Treated?
Grade I / II
Researcher consensus is that mild and moderate PCL injuries (grade I and II) typically respond very well to non-operative physiotherapy treatment. Ideally, acute PCJ injuries should commence rehabilitation within four days of post-injury. (Wind W et al. 2004, Cross M et al., 1984)
The prognosis is good for grade I and II PCL injuries who follow a physiotherapist-supervised rehabilitation program. (Voos J et al., 2012)
Grade III PCJ injuries may require surgery if your functional needs, e.g. sport require an intact PCL. Many PCL injuries can go unrepaired if they are not showing signs of constant pain, swelling, instability or disability. Grade III PCL injuries in isolation can usually avoid surgery with the appropriate rehabilitation. (Maclean et al., 2001)
It is essential to exclude concomitant injuries such as the posterolateral corner or ACL. Each PCL case differs, and we recommend a professional opinion from your sports physiotherapist or knee surgeon.
There are several important factors to consider before deciding to undergo ACL surgery.
- Do you regularly perform activities that generally require a functional PCL?
- Do you experience knee instability?
- What other ligaments and structures did you damage?
If you don’t do multidirectional sports that require a PCL, and you don’t have an unstable knee, then you may not need PCL repair surgery.
Most patients with a PCL tear start to feel better within a few weeks of the injury. These individuals may feel as though their knee is pain-free, but the problems with knee instability and giving way may persist. It is also essential to allow at least six weeks for the natural ligament healing process to occur.
Whether or not you require PCL surgery or not, you should undertake a comprehensive knee rehabilitation program that involves strengthening, proprioception and high-level balance retraining, plus sport-specific agility and functional enhancement.
Your physiotherapy treatment will aim to:
- Reduce pain and inflammation.
- Normalise joint range of motion.
- Strengthen your knee: esp quadriceps (esp VMO) and hamstrings.
- Strengthen your lower limb including your calves, hip and pelvis muscles.
- Improve patellofemoral (knee cap) alignment
- Normalise your muscle lengths
- Improve your proprioception, agility and balance
- Improve your technique and function, e.g. walking, running, squatting, hopping and landing.
- Minimise your chance of re-injury.
Please discuss your knee injury after a thorough examination from a knee injury clinician such as a sports physiotherapist, sports physician or knee surgeon.
PCL Repair Surgery
Surgery for a PCL tear is called a PCL repair, but they often include repairs to other ligaments. A typical example of this is a posterolateral corner reconstruction.
Post-Surgical PCL Physiotherapy Rehabilitation
Post-operative PCL repair rehabilitation is one of the most critical aspects of PCL reconstruction surgery. The most successful and quickest outcomes result from the guidance and supervision of an experienced Sports Physiotherapist.
Your rehabilitation following PCL surgery focuses on restoring full knee motion, strength, power and endurance. While protecting the healing repaired ligament in the early phase, you’ll require proprioception, balance and agility training. Individualised exercises are focused on your specific sporting or functional needs.
As mentioned earlier, your sports physiotherapist is an expert in this field. Please contact them for the best advice in your circumstances.
What Sports have a High Incidence of PCL Tears?
Many sports require a functioning PCL to perform manoeuvres such as landing, jumping, twisting and hyperextension.
These high demand sports include AFL, football, rugby, netball, touch, basketball, tennis, volleyball, hockey, dance, gymnastics, skiing and many more.
You may be able to function in your normal daily activities without a healthy PCL, but these high-demand sports may prove difficult. Athletes often face the decision to undergo reconstructive surgery to return to their previous level of competition. PCL injuries may curtail many promising sporting careers.
How to Prevent PCL Tears?
Preventing knee ligament injuries, including PCL tears, has been the focus of recent research for many years. Prevention protocols are being improved and supported by researchers. For the latest advice, please ask your sports physiotherapist for prevention exercises and strategies. Current investigations have focused on strengthening, dynamic, proprioceptive and neuromuscular training to prevent PCL tears. For more advice, please consult with your sports physiotherapist.
Braces for PCL Tears
Some patients will try a PCL brace. The brace required will need to stabilise your knee to avoid hyperextension and possibly multi-directionally if other ligaments are injured. While trialling a PCL brace is understandable, the success lies in the extent of your PCL instability.
In other words, highly unstable PCL’s may give out eventually regardless of the brace. However, mild instabilities may allow you to work and undertake non-directional change sport if you wear a PCL brace.
Return to Sports with a PCL Tear
Most athletes will typically have no significant trouble returning to sport following a PCL injury in isolation. However, the complication of an ACL or posterolateral corner injury will require special consideration depending upon your specific injury and the sport that you wish to resume.
Knee Brace for a PCL Injury
Many patients will try a PCL brace. The knee brace required will need to stabilise your knee multi-directionally. While trialling a PCL brace is understandable, the success lies in the extent of your ACL instability.
In other words, highly unstable PCL tears will give out eventually regardless of the brace unless it is custom made and moulded specially to your knee. These PCL braces are costly. However, mild instabilities may allow you to work and undertake non-directional change sport if you wear a PCL brace.
Common Causes - Knee Pain
Knee pain can have many origins from local injury, referred pain, biomechanical issues and systemic issues. While knee pain can appear simple to the untrained eye, a thorough assessment is often required to ascertain the origin of your symptoms. The good news is that once a definitive diagnosis is determined, most knee pain quickly resolves with the correct treatment and rehabilitation.
Knee Ligament Injuries
- Knee Ligament Injuries
- ACL Injury
- PCL Injury
- MCL Sprain
- LCL Sprain
- Posterolateral Corner Injury
- Superior Tibiofibular Joint Sprain
Knee Meniscus Injuries
- Chondromalacia Patella
- Fat Pad Syndrome
- Patella Dislocation
- Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
- Osgood Schlatter’s Disease
- Sinding Larsen Johansson Syndrome
Knee Tendon Injuries
- Corked Thigh
- Thigh Muscle Strain
- Hamstring Strain
- ITB Syndrome
- Popliteus Syndrome
- Muscle Strain (Muscle Pain)
- DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Children’s Knee Conditions
Other Knee-Related Conditions
- Runner’s Knee
- Plica Syndrome
- Stress Fracture
- Overuse Injuries
- Restless Legs Syndrome
For specific information regarding your knee pain, please seek the assistance of a healthcare professional with a particular interest in knee condition, such as your physiotherapist.
What is Physiotherapy Treatment?
Physiotherapists help people affected by illness, injury or disability through exercise, manual joint therapy, soft tissue techniques education and advice. Physiotherapists maintain physical health, help patients to manage pain and prevent disease for people of all ages. Physiotherapists help to encourage pain-relief, injury recovery, enabling people to stay playing a sport, working or performing activities of daily living while assisting them to remain functionally independent.
There is a multitude of different physiotherapy treatment approaches.
Acute & Sub-Acute Injury Management
Hands-On Physiotherapy Techniques
Your physiotherapist's training includes hands-on physiotherapy techniques such as:
- Joint Mobilisation (gentle joint gliding techniques)
- Joint Manipulation
- Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
- Minimal Energy Techniques (METs)
- Soft Tissue Techniques
Your physiotherapist has skilled training. Physiotherapy techniques have expanded over the past few decades. They have researched, upskilled and educated themselves in a spectrum of allied health skills. These skills include techniques shared with other healthcare practitioners. Professions include exercise physiologists, remedial massage therapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, kinesiologists, chiropractors and occupational therapists, just to name a few.
Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled professional who utilises strapping and taping techniques to prevent and assist injuries or pain relief and function.
Alternatively, your physiotherapist may recommend a supportive brace.
Acupuncture and Dry Needling
Many physiotherapists have acquired additional training in the field of acupuncture and dry needling to assist pain relief and muscle function.
Physiotherapists have been trained in the use of exercise therapy to strengthen your muscles and improve your function. Physiotherapy exercises use evidence-based protocols where possible as an effective way that you can solve or prevent pain and injury. Your physiotherapist is highly-skilled in the prescription of the "best exercises" for you and the most appropriate "exercise dose" for you depending on your rehabilitation status. Your physiotherapist will incorporate essential components of pilates, yoga and exercise physiology to provide you with the best result. They may even use Real-Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy so that you can watch your muscles contract on a screen as you correctly retrain them.
- Muscle Stretching
- Core Exercises
- Strengthening Exercises
- Balance Exercises
- Proprioception Exercises
- Real-Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy
- Swiss Ball Exercises
Biomechanical assessment, observation and diagnostic skills are paramount to the best treatment. Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled health professional. They possess superb diagnostic skills to detect and ultimately avoid musculoskeletal and sports injuries. Poor technique or posture is one of the most common sources of a repeat injury.
Aquatic water exercises are an effective method to provide low bodyweight exercises.
Sports physio requires an extra level of knowledge and physiotherapy skill to assist injury recovery, prevent injury and improve performance. For the best advice, consult a Sports Physiotherapist.
Women's Health Physiotherapy is a particular interest group of therapies.
Not only can your physiotherapist assist you in sport, but they can also help you at work. Ergonomics looks at the best postures and workstation set up for your body at work or home. Whether it be lifting technique improvement, education programs or workstation setups, your physiotherapist can help you.
Plus Much More
Your physiotherapist is a highly skilled body mechanic. A physiotherapist has particular interests in certain injuries or specific conditions. For advice regarding your individual problem, please contact your PhysioWorks team.
ACL TearAn ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) tear most often occurs during sporting activities when an athlete suddenly pivots, causing excessive rotational forces on the ligament. Individuals who experience ACL tears describe a feeling of the joint giving out, or buckling. You'll commonly hear a "pop."
Signs You May Have Sustained an ACL Tear:
- Sudden giving way of the knee
- Hearing a 'pop' at the time of injury
- Sudden swelling of the knee joint
- Pain in the knee when walking
How is an ACL Tear Diagnosed?A well trained Sports Physiotherapist, Sports Physician or Orthopaedic Surgeon will generally be able to confirm the diagnosis of an ACL tear within the clinic and from your injury history. An MRI scan can confirm your ACL tear and identify other knee injuries that may have occurred when your ACL was ruptured. These accessory injuries commonly include meniscal tears, bone bruising and collateral ligament injuries. Confirmation of an ACL tear is essential since the treatment differs from a common knee ligament strain or a meniscus tear.
What to do if have a Ruptured ACL?Please be guided by your trusted healthcare practitioner for an ACL tear. Successful rehabilitation options vary depending on your age, activity level and extent of the injury. For specific advice, please consult your physiotherapist, knee surgeon or doctor.
Why are ACL Tears Such a Big Problem?When an ACL injury occurs, the knee becomes less stable. The ACL injury is a problem because this instability can make sudden, pivoting movements difficult, and it may make the knee more prone to developing arthritis and cartilage tears. If your knee is unstable, a common complaint of a sensation that the knee will 'give out' from under them. When this giving way sensation is because of an ACL injury, the knee joint is sliding too much. Joint sliding can be a problem because each episode of instability (the 'giving way' sensation) can cause damage to the knee cartilage. Therefore an ACL injury makes patients more prone to developing arthritis and meniscus tears. Athletes often have particular difficulty once they have sustained an ACL injury. Many sports require a functioning ACL to perform common manoeuvres such as cutting, pivoting, and sudden turns. These high demand sports include, but are not limited to:
- Hockey (Ice and Field)