Posterior cruciate ligament injuries are less common and occur with sport or dashboard injuries. A careful history and examination should make the diagnosis. It is important to identify isolated PCL injuries and combined ligament injuries. In isolated PCL injuries, surgery is reserved only for avulsion fractures and high grade symptomatic injuries. Non-operative treatment with adequate quadriceps physiotherapy is the recommended treatment for isolated grade 1 or 2 tears.Combined injuries are generally treated operatively. High-grade symptomatic PCL tears are treated by arthroscopic single or double tunnel or tibial inlay type of reconstruction

Posterior cruciate ligament injuries are less common and form 3% of all knee injuries. In an acute trauma with haemarthrosis, PCL and combined injuries are more common and the incidence could be as high as 37%(Fanelli).

Mechanism of Injury

In an athlete PCL injury occurs with hyperflexion and a posteriorly directed force to the proximal tibia. This can commonly occur during a tackle in football, rugby and wrestling. In motor vehicle accidents, a similar force can occur with dashboard injuries. High velocity injuries can produce PCL with combined ligament injuries when there is a posteriorly directed force along with rotation.



PCL injury does not give the typical history of ‘pop’ or tearing sensation like ACL injuries. The mechanism of injury gives a clue to the diagnosis. Instability symptoms are less common with isolated PCL injuries.

Effusion can be minimal in isolated PCL injuries. There can be posterior knee pain. Should there be bruising posterolaterally, consider associated PLC injury.

The most sensitive tests to diagnose PCL injuries are to look for normal step off of the medial tibial plateau and the posterior drawer test. These tests are done with the knee at 90 degrees flexion. In normal knees the medial tibial plateau is approximately 1cm anterior to the corresponding medial femoral condyle.

Grade 1 Tibial plateau is still anterior but can be posteriorly translated (<5mm laxity)
Grade 2 Flush with medial femoral condyle (5-10mm laxity)
Grade 3 Tibial plateau is posterior to the condyle (>10mm laxity)

Posterior sag and quadriceps active tests are positive in grade 2 or 3 injuries and are easier to demonstrate in chronic PCL injuries. With the quadriceps active test, the examiner asks the patient to slide the foot down the couch. Quadriceps contraction causes the tibia to translate anteriorly from a subluxated position, confirming PCL insufficiency.

The reverse pivot shift is done with the tibia in external rotation and valgus. It may be positive even in normal patients.

A positive dial test at 90 degrees knee flexion is also indicative of PCL injury. If there is increased external rotation at both 30 and 90,then there is both PCL + PLC injury.


Varus stress 30 Dial 30 Dial 90 Posterior Draw
PCL alone
PLC alone
+ at 30 degrees


Xrays of the knee help in assessing degree of posterior sag or for diagnosis of PCL avulsion fractures. MRI scans are not useful in chronic PCL tears as the PCL heals in an elongated position and may appear normal.

Patellofemoral wear or medial joint space narrowing may be seen in old PCL injuries as these compartments are overloaded in PCL deficiency.


Isolated PCL injury

The natural history of isolated PCL tears is well known. Most studies have shown that patients with acute, isolated PCL tears treated nonoperatively achieve a level of knee function independent of the grade of laxity (Shelbourne, Parolie, Fowler). Tears of the lateral meniscus may be associated with PCL tears.

Shelbourne showed that 50% of patients get back to same or higher level of sporting activity. Subjective scores of patients with acute, isolated PCL injuries were independent of grade of PCL laxity and mean scores did not decrease with time from injury. No identifiable characteristics were identified that would help determine which patients with isolated PCL injuries would have deteriorating knee function.

Parolie and Bergfeld evaluated 25 athletes with isolated PCL tears at a mean of 6.2 years after injury. Eleven patients with acute injuries were treated with early range-ofmotion and quadriceps-strengthening exercises. Patients returned to sports in a PCL brace at an average of 6 weeks after injury. Seventeen patients (68%) were able to return to sports at the preinjury level; 4 (16%), at a decreased level of performance.

Non operative treatment (Posterior translation <10mm)

Grade 1 PCL injuries are treated with early range of motion, protected weight bearing for 2 weeks and quadriceps strengthening exercises.

For grade 2 injuries, immobilisation initially with a PCL brace in extension reduces tension on the anterolateral bundle and minimises posterior tibial subluxation by avoiding hamstring contraction. Open kinetic chain exercises are avoided to decrease increased patellofemoral load.

Return to sport can be as early as 6 weeks.

Indications for surgery

PCL injury with combined ligament injuries

Grade 3 PCL injury- A significant proportion of grade 3 injuries have associated PLC or PMC injuries.

PCL avulsion fracture with displacement

Surgical repair

PCL avulsions from the femur can be repaired. There are no indications for acute repair of midsubstance PCL tears.

PCL reconstruction

In multiligamentous injuries the ideal timing for reconstruction is about 2 weeks. Capsular sealing occurs by this period. One may consider open technique in severe multiligamentous injuries due to fluid extravasation and to reduce operative time.

Graft Choice

Patellar tendon graft is satisfactory as long as the length of tendon is 40mm.

Hamstring graft has advantages of double bundle reconstruction but the killer turn of the graft and poorer fixation in the tibia can lead to residual laxity.

Quadriceps tendon graft has lower harvest morbidity or Achiles tendon allograft are now preferred as they also give option of double bundle reconstruction. The bone block is fixed to the tibia.

Achilles tendon allograft- Allografts decrease harvest morbidity and surgical time. The bone block is useful to achieve tibial fixation using inlay technique or transtibial technique. Double bundle reconstruction is possible by splitting the soft tissue portion of the graft.

Single or double bundle

In single bundle reconstruction, it is the stronger Anterolateral bundle that is reconstructed. In double bundle reconstruction, the posteromedial bundle is also reconstructed by drilling two femoral tunnels. This has potential biomechanical advantage and can reduce posterior laxity by about 3.5mm better than single bundle (Harner) The anterolateral bundle is tensioned at 90 degrees whereas the posteromedial bundle is tensioned at 30 degrees.

Transtibial or tibial inlay

The advantage of transtibial technique is to avoid open surgery for addressing the tibial attachment. There is however a ‘killer turn’ to the graft. By tibial inlay technique, the interval between medial head of Gastrocnemius and Semitendinosus is bluntly dissected and the bone block is resessed and fixed at the tibial footprint. The killer turn is avoided.

Transtibial technique

In the transtibial tunnel technique, the tibial PCL attachment is addressed arthroscopically. The procedure is performed with the patient supine with the leg held in a leg holder. After treating any meniscal or chondral lesions, the torn PCL is debrided to enhance visualization. Curved PCL instruments are used to elevate the posterior capsule away from the tibial ridge. Visualision of the PCL stump is achieved by using a posteromedial portal and use of a 70-degree scope. A needle is placed posteromedially under direct arthroscopic visualization just above the joint line to mark this portal. The tibial attachment extends well below the posterior joint line. After debridement of the PCL stump, a PCL guide is paced via the anteromedial portal and a guide pin is drilled from a point just distal and medial to the tibial tubercle and aimed at the distal and lateral aspect of the PCL footprint. This drill guide positioning creates a tibial tunnel that is relatively vertically oriented and creates an angle of ggraft orientation such that the graft will turn two very smooth 45° angles on the posterior aspect of the tibia eliminating the “killer turn” of 90° graft. A C-arm is helpful to confirm correct placement of the guide wire and also to make sure that the guide wire does not advance during reaming. A tunnel is then created with a reamer over the guide wire, with care taken to protect the posterior neurovascular structures. A curved PCL curette may be positioned to cup the tip of the guide wire and the arthroscope is in the posteromedial portal to visualise the tip of the guide wire.

The femoral tunnel is drilled using inside out or outside in technique avoiding trochlea articular cartilage. The tibial tunnel is rasped to avoid sharp turn. A Gore-Tex smoother may be used and a wire loop or suture passer helps in passing suture from femoral to tibial tunnel. A blunt trocar can be used to mobilise the graft up the back of the tibial tunnel into the knee. In single bundle reconstruction the graft is tensioned at 70 degrees knee flexion.

When multiple ligament surgeries are performed at the same operative session, PCL reconstruction is performed first, followed by ACL reconstruction and then collateral ligament surgery. The tourniquet may be released whilst doing the collateral ligament.

Postoperative rehabilitation
See rehabilitation page

Passive knee-flexion exercises are used to gain knee flexion slowly over 6 weeks. Open-kinetic-chain hamstring exercises (seated leg curls) are not used, since posterior tibial translation occurs with open-chain knee flexion exercises. Full return to sports is allowed when adequate quadriceps and hamstring strength is demonstrated (90% of that on the noninjured).


Fanelli and Edson presented the 2- to 10-year (24 to 120 month) results of 41 chronic arthroscopically assisted combined posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)-posterolateral reconstructions evaluated using Lysholm, Tegner, and Hospital for Special Surgery knee ligament rating scales, KT-1000 arthrometer testing, stress radiography, and physical examination. All patients had a single bundle Achilles tendon allograft reconstruction and PLC treated with Biceps tenodesis. Tibial stepoff was normal in 29 of 41 (70%) knees. KT 1000 difference was 1.81mm and Telos difference at 90 degrees with 32Lb load was 2.26mm. Postoperative Lysholm, Tegner, and Hospital for Special Surgery knee ligament rating scale mean values were 91.7, 4.92, and 88.7, respectively

Cooper and Stewart prospectively studied 44 patients having isolated or combined PCL reconstruction using the direct tibial inlay fixation technique. They were followed up for 2-10 years. There were 35 primary and 6 revision reconstructions. Surgery was performed in the acute or subacute setting (<8 weeks) in 34% (14/41) and chronic setting in 66% (27/41). Combined reconstructions involving the posterolateral corner, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), or medial collateral ligament (MCL) were done in 85% (35/41). Final follow-up Telos stress radiography with 25 kg posterior load applied at 80 degrees to 90 degrees of flexion demonstrated average side-to-side difference of 4.11 mm (-2 to 10 mm).

No significant difference have been shown by other authors comparing Tibial inlay and transtibial technique (MacGillivray, Margheritini and Harner) Apsingi, Amis et al showed no significant laxity comparing single and double bundle reconstructions.

Ahn reviewed 36 PCL reconstructions (18 hamstring and 18 Allograft Achilles tendon). The hamstring group showed better Lysholm scores but there was no difference in Telos testing.


History and evaluation

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Shelbourne KD, Davis TJ, Patel DV: The natural history of acute, isolated, nonoperatively treated posterior cruciate ligament injuries: A prospective study. Am J Sports Med 1999;27: 276-283

Fanelli GC: Posterior cruciate ligament injuries in trauma patients.Arthroscopy9:291-294,1993

Fanelli GC, Edson CJ: posterior cruciate ligament injuries in trauma patients: Part II.Arthroscopy11:526-529,1995

Fowler PJ, Messieh SS: Isolated posterior cruciate ligament injuries in athletes.Am J Sports Med15:553-557,1987

Covey CD, Sapega AA. Injuries of the posterior cruciate ligament. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1993 Sep;75(9):1376-86

Shelbourne KD, Jennings RW, Vahey TN. Magnetic resonance imaging of posterior cruciate ligament injuries: assessment of healing. Am J Knee Surg. 1999 Fall;12(4):209-13.

Isolated PCL injury

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Shelbourne KD, Davis TJ, Patel DV. The natural history of acute, isolated, nonoperatively treated posterior cruciate ligament injuries. A prospective study. Am J Sports Med. 1999 May-Jun;27(3):276-83.

Parolie JM, Bergfeld JA. Long-term results of nonoperative treatment of isolated posterior cruciate ligament injuries in the athlete. Am J Sports Med. 1986 Jan-Feb;14(1):35-8.

Fowler PJ, Messieh SS. Isolated posterior cruciate ligament injuries in athletes. Am J Sports Med. 1987 Nov-Dec;15(6):553-7.


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Ahn JH, Yang HS, Jeong WK, Koh KH. Arthroscopic transtibial posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction with preservation of posterior cruciate ligament fibers: clinical results of minimum 2-year follow-up. Am J Sports Med. 2006 Feb;34(2):194-204.

Kim SJ, Park IS. Arthroscopic reconstruction of the posterior cruciate ligament using tibial-inlay and double-bundle technique. Arthroscopy. 2005 Oct;21(10):1271.

Ahn JH, Yoo JC, Wang JH. Posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: double-loop hamstring tendon autograft versus Achilles tendon allograft–clinical results of a minimum 2-year follow-up. Arthroscopy. 2005 Aug;21(8):965-9.

Fanelli GC, Orcutt DR, Edson CJ.The multiple-ligament injured knee: evaluation, treatment, and results. Arthroscopy. 2005 Apr;21(4):471-86.

Burks RT, Schaffer JJ. A simplified approach to the tibial attachment of the posterior cruciate ligament. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1990 May;(254):216-9.

Zehms CT, Whiddon DR, Miller MD et al. Comparison of a double bundle arthroscopic inlay and open inlay posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction using clinically relevant tools: a cadaveric study. Arthroscopy. 2008 Apr;24(4):472-80.

Apsingi S, Nguyen T, Bull AM, Unwin A, Deehan DJ, Amis AA. Control of laxity in knees with combined posterior cruciate ligament and posterolateral corner deficiency: comparison of single-bundle versus double-bundle posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction combined with modified Larson posterolateral corner reconstruction. Am J Sports Med. 2008 Mar;36(3):487-94.

Margheritini F, Mauro CS, Rihn JA, Stabile KJ, Woo SL, Harner CD. Biomechanical comparison of tibial inlay versus transtibial techniques for posterior cruciate ligament reconstruction: analysis of knee kinematics and graft in situ forces. Am J Sports Med. 2004 Apr-May;32(3):587-93