What’s the difference between an ACL and a PCL injury?

One ligament supports the front of your knee while the other supports the back.


You have two cruciate ligaments in your knee that support and stabilize the forward and backward motion of the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament or ACL is located inside the front of the knee. The posterior cruciate ligament or PCL stabilizes the back of the knee.

The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) is the stronger of the two ligaments. It stabilizes the backward motion of the knee, so it doesn’t bend too far backward. Injury to the PCL often involves a forceful blow to the front of a bent knee, by twisting, a misstep or a hyperextension of the knee.

If you damage your PCL, you will feel pain in the knee. Your knee may swell within the hours after the injury, and you may not be able to walk without limping. Your knee may feel stiff and unstable. You may feel like your knee will give out with each step you take.

Your healthcare clinician will assess the injury using an MRI or an X-ray. Depending on the severity of the injury, you may need to immobilize your knee. After the pain subsides, you may need to start a rehabilitation program to restore strength and function. Fortunately, partial tears of posterior cruciate ligaments tend to heal without surgical intervention. However, a severe PCL tear may need surgery to rebuild the ligament with a tissue graft.

Anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) are more susceptible to injury and may result in partial or total tears needing reconstructive surgery.

ACL injuries can occur when a person slows down when running, changes direction or stops suddenly. The ACL is also susceptible to injury from the impact of jumping, falling or hitting another object.

Females tend to experience a higher number of ACL injuries than males. This may be due to estrogen’s effect on the ligaments; the positioning and structure of the hips, pelvis and lower legs; or a the weaker female muscular system.

An ACL injury will cause initial knee pain accompanied by swelling. You may not be able to move your knee; it will feel tender. You may feel pain when you walk.

It’s important to seek medical treatment for all ACL injuries in order to prevent further damage to the meniscus and other cartilage.

Don’t let knee pain keep you on the sidelines, call (920) 996-3700 or request an appointment today.

Acension Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center

Madison Center at Ascension St. Elizabeth Hospital
1531 S. Madison St.
4th floor
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 996-3700

Contact Us

1506 S. Oneida St
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 738-2000

Connect With Us

Copyright © 2018 Affinity Health System. All Rights Reserved