What's the difference between an ACL tear and a PCL tear?

I’m trying to understand the differences between an ACL tear and a PCL tear. I’ve heard these terms used a lot in discussions about knee injuries, especially among athletes, but I’m unclear on what distinguishes one.

Can someone explain how these injuries differ regarding symptoms, causes, treatment, and recovery?

Any insights or personal experiences would be really helpful!



The ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) are two critical ligaments in the knee that contribute to its stability.

Location and Function:

ACL: The ACL is located in the front of the knee. It prevents the tibia (shinbone) from sliding out in front of the femur (thighbone) and provides rotational stability to the knee.
PCL: The PCL is located at the back of the knee. It prevents the tibia from sliding backwards under the femur.

Causes of Injury:

ACL Tear: Typically occurs due to a sudden change in direction, stopping quickly, landing incorrectly from a jump, or direct contact (like a football tackle). It’s common in sports like soccer, basketball, and skiing.
PCL Tear: Usually results from a direct blow to the front of the knee while the knee is bent, such as in a car accident or a fall on a bent knee. It is less common than ACL tears.


ACL Tear: Sudden “popping” sound, severe pain, rapid swelling, instability, and difficulty bearing weight on the affected leg.
PCL Tear: Mild swelling, pain at the back of the knee, feeling of instability, and difficulty walking or bearing weight, but often less severe than an ACL tear.


To assess their extent, both injuries can be diagnosed through physical examinations and imaging tests, such as MRI or X-rays.


ACL Tear: Treatment may involve rest, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery to reconstruct the ligament, especially for active individuals or athletes.
PCL Tear: Many PCL injuries can be treated non-surgically with rest, bracing, and physical therapy. Severe cases or combined injuries might require surgical intervention.


ACL Tear: Recovery from ACL surgery can take 6 to 9 months or longer, depending on the individual’s rehabilitation progress.
PCL Tear: Non-surgical recovery might take a few weeks to a few months, while surgical recovery can extend to several months.

Understanding these differences can help you recognise the type of knee injury and seek appropriate medical care.

If you suspect a ligament injury, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.