Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is the strongest ligament in the knee. It keeps the tibia (lower leg bone) from sliding behind the femur (thigh bone). A PCL tear or injury is a partial or complete tearing or stretching of any part of the ligament. 

The most common causes of PCL tears are a direct blow to the knee such as a fall on the knee or a car accident. A PCL tear can also occur as a result of overextending the knee (hyperextension), which can happen if you land awkwardly after jumping, for example. PCL injuries can often occur with other ligament tears or severe injuries such as knee dislocation. 

We treat hundreds of patients who have PCL tears every year. 

Pain doesn't have to be a part of your life, we can help. 

Note: If you suspect a PCL injury, it is important to be seen by a healthcare professional immediately. Waiting can make matters worse, and it is easier for us to repair any damage early on.


Typical symptoms include:

  • Pain, swelling and instability
  • A pop is felt or heard
  • Sometimes occurs with other ligament or cartilage injuries


When you come to the University of Michigan:

  • We will take your complete medical history, ask you about your pattern of symptoms and conduct a medical exam. We can diagnose an PCL injury during a medical exam. 
  • We may conduct tests such as X-rays and may need to order an MRI. 

Then we will use all of this information to develop an individualized treatment plan for you. 


Non-surgical Treatment

Partial PCL tears and some isolated complete tears can be treated without surgery. This can only be determined during an examination by an experienced physician. You should know and consider the short- and long-term consequences of your options. 

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Elevating the joint above the level of the heart
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) for pain
  • Physical therapy
  • Splinting or a brace

Surgical Treatment

If pain persists after treatment and physical therapy, your doctor may recommend surgery to reconstruct the PCL. We offer:

  • Allograph PCL reconstruction - Uses a donor's tissue
  • PCL reconstruction using your own tissue (usually a portion of the quadriceps tendon)

Post-operative Care

  • Patients may need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 days after surgery for pain control.
  • Crutches and a brace (or splint) are used for about 1 month after surgery.
  • Physical therapy begins soon after surgery to regain range of motion and strength. Most patients need physical therapy for 3-6 months.
  • Full recovery is approximately 6-9 months after surgery. Many athletes take one year to fully recover before they return to athletics.

Contact Us / Make an Appointment

  • MedSport, 877-877-9333, or 734-930-7400
  • Orthopaedics, 734-936-5780
  • Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR), 734-936-7175

You're about to make an important decision, and we want to help you make a good one. We have decades of experience successfully diagnosing and treating knee injuries and conditions. Visit our Contact Us page to see a list of Musculoskeletal Call Centers. Our staff will be glad to talk with you about your options and how we can help.