PCL Tear

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is a ligament that connects the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone) at the back of knee and keeps your bones aligned so that your knee can move smoothly. A PCL tear or sprain occurs when the PCL is damaged. Most PCL tears occur in skiers and athletes who play soccer, football, or baseball. However, they are far less common than ACL tears and usually occur along with other ligament injuries. Nonsurgical or surgical treatments can be performed to mend the knee and help you return to all (or at least most) normal physical activities after rehabilitation.

  • Symptoms

  • Treatment


In most cases, a PCL tear or sprain is the result of a direct injury, such as a blow to the knee, falling on a bent knee, landing improperly from a jump or fall, dislocating the knee, or hyperextending the knee. Symptoms will usually present immediately or shortly after the injury occurs. Symptoms can include:

  • Pain that builds steadily and quickly after the injury
  • Swelling that builds steadily and quickly after the injury
  • Inflammation
  • Knee stiffness
  • Difficulty walking, or walking with a limp
  • Knee instability or buckling feeling that the knee will give way
  • Decreased range of knee motion

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a PCL tear take to heal?

Recovery from a PCL tear can vary greatly from person to person. Mild injuries may heal on their own in as little as 10 days, while more serious PCL injuries requiring surgery can take 6 to 12 months for a full recovery.

How do I know if I’ve torn my PCL?

A PCL tear usually occurs with a definitive injury and is usually accompanied by severe pain, swelling, and a feeling of instability. The symptoms themselves are a strong indicator that ligaments in the knee may have been damaged, and a diagnosis can be confirmed with a detailed history and exam, including x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. These additional tests also determine whether there are any accompanying fractures and whether any other parts of the knee have also been damaged.

What should I expect for PCL surgery?

PCL reconstruction surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that begins with two small incisions around the knee joint. Through these incisions, a small camera may be inserted to allow visualization, and tools may be inserted to provide repairs. Tissue grafts will be used to restore knee functionality. Bone tunnels will be made in the femur and tibia to make room for the graft, and metal screws will be used to secure the graft and allow for bone-to-bone healing. Usually, the procedure is performed under general anesthesia with a nerve block, and dressings and a knee brace will be placed before the patient wakes up after the surgery. Patients can usually return home the same day to begin their recovery.

How do I know if I need surgery?

A minor PCL injury may heal without surgery and without complications. However, a more severe PCL injury will show signs of weakness and vulnerability to re-injury. If you have pain, swelling, instability, or coldness/numbness in the leg or foot, you may have a serious PCL injury and should see a healthcare provider. They can conduct the appropriate tests to determine whether you may need surgery or nonsurgical treatment.

What are the benefits of undergoing PCL surgery?

Without surgery, a severe PCL tear may leave the knee permanently weak and prone to repetitive injuries. PCL surgery generally leads to improved stability and mobility following the recovery. Depending on the severity of the injury and factors such as age, physical activity, and health, some individuals may still need to wear a knee brace during certain physical activities to protect the knee joint.