Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Tear

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is a ligament in the knee joint that connects the tibia (shinbone) to the femur (thighbone). A PCL tear is a type of knee injury that occurs when the PCL is partially or completely torn. This can result from a variety of causes, including a direct impact to the front of the knee, a fall onto a bent knee, or a twisting injury to the knee joint. PCL tears can range in severity, from a mild sprain to a complete tear of the ligament. Treatment for a PCL tear may involve physical therapy, bracing, and in some cases, surgery.

Causes of Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Tear

PCL tears can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Direct impact to the front of the knee: A direct blow to the front of the knee can cause the tibia to move backward and tear the PCL.

Falls: A fall onto a bent knee can also cause the tibia to move backward and tear the PCL.

Twisting injuries: Sudden twisting or rotation of the knee joint can cause the PCL to stretch or tear.

Sports injuries: PCL tears are common in sports that involve sudden stops or changes in direction, such as football, soccer, and basketball.

Motor vehicle accidents: PCL tears can also result from high-impact collisions, such as those that occur during motor vehicle accidents.

Previous knee injuries: People who have previously injured their knee joint, including a previous PCL tear, may be at increased risk for developing a PCL tear.

It is important to see a medical professional if you experience any knee pain or discomfort, as they can help diagnose the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Signs and Symptoms of Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Tear

The signs and symptoms of a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain in the knee joint: Pain is a common symptom of a PCL tear and may be felt at the back of the knee.
  • Swelling and inflammation: Swelling and inflammation may occur in the knee joint, particularly in the first few hours or days following the injury.
  • Limited range of motion: A PCL tear can cause stiffness and limited range of motion in the knee joint.
  • Instability: People with a PCL tear may feel that their knee is unstable or feels like it may “give out” when they walk or stand.
  • Difficulty bearing weight: Walking or bearing weight on the affected leg may be difficult or painful.
  • A popping or cracking sound: Some people may hear a popping or cracking sound at the time of injury.

It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms following a knee injury, as PCL tears can have long-term effects if left untreated. A medical professional can help diagnose the injury and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment for Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL) Tear

The treatment of a posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) tear typically depends on the severity of the injury. For mild to moderate PCL tears, physiotherapy is often the first line of treatment. The goal of physiotherapy is to reduce pain and inflammation, increase range of motion, and restore strength and stability to the knee joint. Here are some common physiotherapy treatments for PCL tears:

Rest and Ice: Resting the affected leg and applying ice to the knee can help reduce swelling and inflammation.

Range of motion exercises: Gentle range of motion exercises can help maintain flexibility in the knee joint.

Strengthening exercises: Strengthening exercises, particularly of the quadriceps and hamstrings, can help stabilize the knee joint and prevent future injury.

Balance and proprioception exercises: These exercises help improve balance and stability of the knee joint.

Bracing: In some cases, a knee brace may be recommended to help provide support and stability to the joint during activity.

Gradual return to activity: It is important to gradually return to activity following a PCL tear, as too much too soon can lead to re-injury.

A physiotherapist can help develop an individualized treatment plan based on the severity of the injury and the individual’s goals and needs. In cases of severe PCL tears, surgery may be necessary to repair or reconstruct the ligament.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a therapist about posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) please call us at 03 9836 1126.



Chang, N. J., Lin, J. J., Lin, H. C., Lin, Y. F., & Lin, D. H. (2020). Comparison of the effects of closed and open kinetic chain exercises on lower extremity muscle strength, proprioception, and functional outcome in patients with posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Journal of physical therapy science

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