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How is ACL Tear Different from PCL Tear?

Knee injuries are one of the most common reasons that keep athletes on the side-lines. An athlete’s knee suffers from overuse and collision, especially in high impact sports, resulting in a serious injury like an ACL tear or PCL tear.

Before we examine how ACL tear is different from PCL tear, let’s look at their functionality. The knee is a complex hinge joint that enables flexing, bending and rotatory motion of our legs. The two major ligaments that hold the knee together, stabilize it and support its functionality are the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). They connect the shinbone to the thighbone forming an ‘X’ in the centre of the knee. The other two are ligaments that give stability to the knee are the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL).

ACL and PCL Tear

ACL is a crucial connective tissue that manages excessive rotational forces and prevents the tibia from sliding too far. Even though the ACL is exceptionally strong, it is the most injured ligament. When there is too much stress on the joint by sudden twisting, the ligament gets overstretched and tears.

PCL prevents the tibia from sliding backwards. PCL is comparatively less vulnerable and gets injured when an individual falls and lands hard on a bent knee. It can also be torn if in a car accident, the knee hits a hard surface like a dashboard or under the steering wheel. Backward bending of the knee is also a known cause.

Both ACL and PCL, cause pain, swelling and instability of the knee. Depending on the severity of the ACL tear, the rotational stability of the knee is most affected. Sometimes there may be a popping sensation in the knee if there is an ACL tear. In case of a severe PCL tear, walking may not be possible, the knee may feel wobbly and sometimes it may seem to unnaturally slump backwards.


Consulting an orthopaedic specialist is very important if any of the above symptoms are noticed. Dr Vijay Kumar Sohanlal, a senior specialist in joint replacement and orthopaedics at MGM healthcare and Mahi Clinic in Chennai, explained that physical examination along with MRI can be used to diagnose the problem. He mentioned that in minor injuries the functionality of the knee can be restored by simpler measures like giving rest to the joint, splint, use of ice to reduce swelling and pain. The orthopaedic specialist will most likely prescribe pain and inflammation medication along with physical therapy.                    

Dr Vijay Kumar, who has expertise in knee-related injuries, says that it is best to get the recommendation of a specialist regarding the treatment. Dr Vijay has experience of over a decade of successfully performing arthroscopic surgery for an ACL and PCL tear. He says an arthroscopic surgery is recommended depending on the severity of the injury. The surgery is done to replace the torn ligament with a graft.

Recovery Physical therapy begins from day one after the surgery and continues till you develop the full strength of your knee joint. The recovery period can vary but usually, patients can return to sports activities after 6-9 months of surgery.

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