Though it isn't as well known as the ACL and associated injuries to it, the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is the other ligament that forms an "X" across the knee joint. It is a vital part of keeping the knee stable. Often it is injured along with the medial collateral ligament (MCL). This causes multidirectional instability in the knee, which can be very serious.
Doctors at the FHCH Sports Medicine Program are well aware of the potentially serious nature of MCL/PCL injuries and have the experience to detect and diagnose the injury correctly and treat it with the latest innovations and technologies in sports medicine.
What Causes an MCL/PCL Injury?
Injuries to these collateral ligaments are usually caused by a force that pushes the knee sideways. These are often contact injuries, though other types of contact can push the knees sideways as well. Medial collateral ligament tears most often occur as a result of a direct blow to the outside of the knee, which pushes the knee inwards toward the other knee.
Symptoms of an MCL/PCL Injury
An injury involving the MCL and PCL can cause the following symptoms:
- Pain at the side of your knee.
- Swelling over the site of the injury.
- A feeling of instability, like the knee is about to give away.
Injuries rarely require surgery. Instead, your doctor may recommend a range of non-surgical treatments that are designed to speed healing while reducing pain and swelling.
These treatments include:
- Ice: The proper way to ice this injury is to apply crushed ice directly to the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes a time, allowing one hour to pass between sessions. Chemical cold products should not be placed on the skin and are not as effective as good old crushed ice. Icing is important to the healing process, so you'll want to invest the time and energy to do it correctly.
- Bracing: Your knee must be protected from the same sideways forces that caused the injury initially. You may need to change your regular routine to avoid any risky movements. Your doctor may recommend a brace to protect the injured ligaments from additional stress. To further protect the knee, you may also be asked to use crutches to take weight off the leg and knee while it heals.
As part of your recovery, your doctor may recommend physical therapy or strengthening exercises, including specific exercises that are designed to build strength in your leg muscles and restore function to your knee. Once you begin to regain your range of motion and can walk without a limp, your doctor may allow additions to your routine. The goal is to rebuild strength and motion gradually so you can return to your regular level of activity.
For example, if you're a soccer player, your functional progression may begin with a light jog. Then it will progress to a sprint, and eventually, full running and kicking a ball. Depending on the circumstances, you may be asked to wear a knee brace during sports activities initially to allow further strengthening while reducing the risk of re-injury.
MCL/PCL injuries do not usually require surgery.
If you have questions about MCL/PCL injuries or want to make an appointment with us, please contact one of our Patient Care Coordinators and they'll be happy to help you.