The posterior cruciate ligament is located in the back of the knee. It is one of several ligaments that connect the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone). The posterior cruciate ligament keeps the tibia from moving backwards too far.
An injury to the posterior cruciate ligament requires a powerful force. A common cause of injury is a bent knee hitting a dashboard in a car accident or a football player falling on a knee that is bent.
If you have injured just your posterior cruciate ligament, your injury may heal quite well without surgery Your doctor may recommend simple, nonsurgical options.
RICE. When you are first injured, the RICE method – rest, ice, gentle compression and elevation — can help speed your recovery.
Immobilization. Your doctor may recommend a brace to prevent your knee from moving. To further protect your knee, you may be given crutches to keep you from putting weight on your leg.
Physical therapy. As the swelling goes down, a careful rehabilitation program is started. Specific exercises will restore function to your knee and strengthen the leg muscles that support it. Strengthening the muscles in the front of your thigh (quadriceps) has been shown to be a key factor in a successful recovery.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if you have combined injuries. For example, if you have dislocated your knee and torn multiple ligaments including the posterior cruciate ligament, surgery is almost always necessary.
Rebuilding the ligament. Because sewing the ligament ends back together does not usually heal, a torn posterior cruciate ligament must be rebuilt. Your doctor will replace your torn ligament with a tissue graft. This graft is taken from another part of your body, or from another human donor (cadaver). It can take several months for the graft to heal into your bone.
Procedure. Surgery to rebuild a posterior cruciate ligament is done with an arthroscope using small incisions. Arthroscopic surgery is less invasive. The benefits of less invasive techniques include less pain from surgery, less time spent in the hospital, and quicker recovery times.
Surgical procedures to repair posterior cruciate ligaments continue to improve. More advanced techniques help patients resume a wider range of activities after rehabilitation.
Whether your treatment involves surgery or not, rehabilitation plays a vital role in getting you back to your daily activities. A physical therapy program will help you regain knee strength and motion. If you had surgery, physical therapy will begin 1 to 4 weeks after your procedure.
How long it takes you to recover from a posterior cruciate ligament injury will depend on the severity of your injury. Combined injuries often have a slow recovery, but most patients do well over time.
If your injury requires surgery, it may be several weeks before you return to a desk job – perhaps months if your job requires a lot of activity. Full recovery typically requires 6 to 12 months.
Although it is a slow process, your commitment to therapy is the most important factor in returning to all the activities you enjoy.