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Posterior Cruciate Ligament Injury

  • Author: Charles S Peterson, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
 
Updated: Feb 28, 2014
 

Background

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is described as the primary stabilizer of the knee by many authors. PCL injuries are less common than anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, and they often go unrecognized. The PCL is broader and stronger than the ACL and has a tensile strength of 2000 N. Injury most often occurs when a force is applied to the anterior aspect of the proximal tibia when the knee is flexed. Hyperextension and rotational or varus/valgus stress mechanisms also may be responsible for PCL tears. Injuries may be isolated or combined with other ligamentous injuries. A PCL tear can result in varying degrees of disability, from no impairment to severe impairment. PCL injury has been overly simplified, and the functional disability of PCL injury may be underestimated.[1] The radiographs belowdemonstrate the results of suchinjuries, comparing a normal knee with one that has a damaged PCL.

A normal lateral radiograph of a knee. In a normalA normal lateral radiograph of a knee. In a normal knee, a line drawn along the posterior femoral condyle will not intersect the posterior tibial condyle.
A lateral radiograph of a knee with a posterior crA lateral radiograph of a knee with a posterior cruciate ligament injury. Note that the same line as in the above image will bisect the posterior tibial condyle due to a posterior sag and an incompetent posterior cruciate ligament.

The primary function of the PCL is to prevent posterior translation of the tibia on the femur. The PCL also plays a role as a central axis controlling and imparting rotational stability to the knee. This injury has received little attention in the past, compared with the ACL; however, this emphasis on the ACL has stimulated increased interest in the treatment of PCL injuries. Controversy regarding treatment of isolated PCL injuries exists in the literature, with recommendations supporting both operative and nonoperative therapy. Current management of PCL injuries unfortunately can yield relatively poor clinical outcomes, whether surgically or conservatively treated.[2]

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Epidemiology

Frequency

United States

True incidence in the United States is unknown. In National Football League predraft physical examinations, a 2% incidence of isolated, asymptomatic, and unknown PCL injuries was found; operated, isolated, and combined PCL injuries were reported at an incidence of 3.5-20%. On the KT-1000 stress test examination, a 7% incidence of PCL injuries was found, of which 40% were isolated and unidirectional and 60% were multidirectional.

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Functional Anatomy

As demonstrated in the images below, the PCL originates from the intercondylar notch of the femur on the roof of the medial femoral condyle. The insertion is central on the posterior aspect of the tibial plateau, on a depression between the tibial plateaus, extending 1 cm below the articular surface.[3] The ligament is composed of a larger anterolateral bundle and a smaller posteromedial bundle. The anterior component is tightest in the midarc of flexion and the posterior fibers are tight in extension and deep flexion.

A view of the broad origin of the posterior cruciaA view of the broad origin of the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) on the medial femoral condyle of a left knee. The anterior cruciate ligament has been removed for surgical reconstruction.
An additional view of the posterior cruciate ligamAn additional view of the posterior cruciate ligament broad origin and insertion in a knee pending anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.

In addition, variable anterior and posterior meniscofemoral ligaments of Humphrey and Wrisberg attach distally and proximally to the PCL, respectively. The meniscofemoral ligaments attach distally to the posterior horn of the lateral meniscus, in a slanting orientation, providing resistance to the tibial posterior drawer.[4] The PCL is an extrasynovial structure that lies behind the intra-articular portion of the knee. The primary function of the PCL is to resist posterior displacement of the tibia in relation to the femur; its secondary function is to prevent hyperextension and limit internal and varus/valgus rotation.

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Sport Specific Biomechanics

Disruption may occur with forced hyperextension while the foot is planted in dorsiflexion. A force applied to the anteromedial aspect of the knee, as during a football tackle, results in a posteriorly directed force and a varus hyperextension force, leading to PCL and posterolateral capsular ruptures.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Charles S Peterson, MD Consulting Staff, Arizona Sports Medicine Center; Instructor in Family Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine; Clinical Instructor, Midwestern University Medical School

Charles S Peterson, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Janos P Ertl, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Indiana University School of Medicine; Chief of Orthopedic Surgery, Wishard Hospital; Chief, Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy, Indiana University School of Medicine

Janos P Ertl, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Orthopaedic Association, Hungarian Medical Association of America, Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Gyorgy Kovacs, MD Consulting Surgeon, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, GOC Clinic

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Thomas Agesen, MD Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School; Consulting Staff, Mountainside Hospital, Summit Overlook Hospital

Thomas Agesen, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American College of Sports Medicine, Physiatric Association of Spine, Sports and Occupational Rehabilitation

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Russell D White, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Department of Community and Family Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Truman Medical Center-Lakewood

Russell D White, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Sports Medicine, American Diabetes Association, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Craig C Young, MD Professor, Departments of Orthopedic Surgery and Community and Family Medicine, Medical Director of Sports Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin

Craig C Young, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Gerard A Malanga, MD Founder and Partner, New Jersey Sports Medicine, LLC and New Jersey Regenerative Institute; Director of Research, Atlantic Health; Clinical Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-New Jersey Medical School; Fellow, American College of Sports Medicine

Gerard A Malanga, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, North American Spine Society, International Spine Intervention Society, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American College of Sports Medicine

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Cephalon for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Endo for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Genzyme for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Prostakan for speaking and teaching; Received consulting fee from Pfizer for speaking and teaching.

References
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A normal lateral radiograph of a knee. In a normal knee, a line drawn along the posterior femoral condyle will not intersect the posterior tibial condyle.
A lateral radiograph of a knee with a posterior cruciate ligament injury. Note that the same line as in the above image will bisect the posterior tibial condyle due to a posterior sag and an incompetent posterior cruciate ligament.
The posterior tibial sag sign. The photo on the left demonstrates the clinical finding of the posterior tibial sag sign. A line drawn parallel to the patella accentuates the posterior tibial sag. The photo on the right demonstrates the quadriceps active drawer test described by Daniels. With the knee in 70-90° of flexion, the extensor mechanism is contracted, pulling the tibia anteriorly into a reduced position.
A close-up view of a posterior tibial sag with an incompetent posterior cruciate ligament.
This MRI of the knee shows a torn posterior cruciate ligament.
This MRI (coronal section) shows a posterior cruciate ligament tear.
This transverse MRI shows edema to the torn posterior cruciate ligament.
A view of the broad origin of the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) on the medial femoral condyle of a left knee. The anterior cruciate ligament has been removed for surgical reconstruction.
An additional view of the posterior cruciate ligament broad origin and insertion in a knee pending anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction.
A right knee pending posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) reconstruction. A minimal notchplasty is completed. Two guide pins are advanced into the medial femoral condyle for tunnel placement to reconstruct the 2 bundles of the PCL.
The 2 tunnels are created by reaming from outside in; 8- to 9-mm tunnels are made depending on patient size and the graft that will be used.
Two red Robinson catheters are advanced through the femoral tunnels.
The catheters have premade holes, which are used for suture retrieval.
The catheters are advanced and threaded out the posterior knee. In this case, a posterior tibial onlay graft from an Achilles tendon allograft is used. The 2 bundles are secured to the catheters and advanced into the joint through the tunnels.
The 2 Achilles tendon bundles are secured with a baseball whipstitch, are threaded through the catheter holes, and are advanced into the femoral condyle tunnels.
Additional view of the placement and advancement of the Achilles allograft.
Completion and seating of the femoral allograft reconstruction. The 2 bundles are secured or stabilized by suturing over a post and washer. Note the reestablishment of the broad surface area for the reconstructed posterior cruciate ligament origin.
Completion of the tibial onlay, 2-bundle Achilles tendon allograft/posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) reconstruction. The bony calcaneus remnant is secured to the posterior tibia with 1 or 2 interfragmentary compression screws into a trough into the posterior tibia at the level of the PCL insertion. Care is taken to not penetrate the anterior tibial cortex with these screws. Note the intact original anterior cruciate ligament.
 
 
 
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