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Sports docs’ weekly blitz: What is the PCL anyway?

With all this talk about ACL injuries, you will occasionally hear about PCL injuries.

What the heck is that all about?

Deep in the inner sanctum of the knee is a space known as the notch. Within this pass are two ligaments, the ACL and the PCL (Posterior cruciate ligament). The ligaments cross each other, hence the name. Cruciate = cross.

The ACL is prone to a complete rupture and everyone has read about these injuries. More rare are injuries to the PCL. The PCL is a much larger ligament with a broader origin and insertion, with several multiple bands, making it more susceptible to partial injury.

Usually a direct blow to the upper tibial bone is the cause of an isolated PCL injury. Imagine falling directly on this area with a 310 pound lineman on your back. Though this injury is much less common than ACL injuries, we will see a couple of these a year in our sports population at ISU.

If the injury is isolated (meaning that other ligaments remain intact), the PCL is usually partially ruptured and can be rehabbed with excellent return to football activities. ISU recently had a player in the NFL with a PCL deficient knee and no apparent loss of function. The PCL never completely heals but knee function can return to seemingly 100 percent if the athlete restores quadriceps to full or greater than pre-injury strength. Only rarely is surgery required with partial PCL injuries.

If the PCL is ruptured with other major ligament tears, all bets are off. This is a catastrophic situation and surgery may or may not restore athletic prowess.

With isolated tears, it still can take six weeks or longer to strengthen the knee and usually a protective brace is worn for football activities.

Now that you’ve heard of it, look for it in the sports pages. You are in the know.

Are you interested in making an appointment with our docs? Click here to learn more about Dr. WarmeDr. Buckand Dr. Greenwald.


Dr. Peter Buck