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ACL and PCL Injuries From a Car Accident

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ACL and PCL Injuries From a Car Accident


Tears to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) are often caused by traumatic events such as car accidents. Anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments are important to the stability of the knee joint. They make the joint stable and yet are configured in such a way as to allow for more than 90 degrees of flexion of the knee.

If you have sustained a knee ligament injury due to an accident that was caused by another person’s negligence, you may be eligible for compensation through a personal injury claim. Call our experienced injury lawyers at (916) 921-6400 to learn about your legal options. We provide knowledgeable, free, and friendly advice.

Common Causes of Knee Ligament Injuries

Here are some examples of possible causes of an ACL or PCL tear:

ACL Injury Causes

  • Automobile accident
  • Changing direction quickly, as in football or soccer
  • Stopping running quickly or suddenly
  • Running and slowing down rapidly
  • Landing a jump the wrong way
  • A football tackle with a direct collision
  • According to research, female athletes have a higher risk of ACL sprain than male athletes.

PCL Injury Causes

It usually takes a great amount of force to injure the posterior cruciate ligament, which can happen in the following ways:

  • A direct blow to the bent knee in an automobile accident
  • A sports-related injury in which the knee bends
  • Pulling on the ligament in a twisting injury or hyperextension
  • A misstep on uneven terrain
Types of ACL and PCL Injuries

Both the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments are prone to spraining or tearing. These injuries are commonly seen in our motor vehicle accident cases.

About half of all damaging injuries to the ACL happen simultaneously as damage to other structures of the knee. Injuries to the ligaments in the knee are graded according to their severity:

  • Grade 1 Sprain: The ligament has become slightly stretched, but the knee is technically stable.
  • Grade 2 Sprains: The ligament has become loose or partially torn.
  • Grade 3 Sprains: The ligament has completely torn, leaving the joint completely unstable. It is rare to have a partial tear of the ACL. Most injuries of the ACL involve complete tears.

Posterior cruciate ligament tears happen when the knee is in a bent position. In a car accident, this often occurs when a vehicle occupant strikes the dashboard with bent knees.

Posterior cruciate ligament tears can also involve the grades noted above. A big difference between a PCL and ACL tear is that a PCL tear is usually only a partial tear, whereas an ACL tear is usually complete.

How Much is an ACL or PCL Injury Worth?

In a personal injury matter, the case’s value will depend on many factors – one of which is the severity of the injuries. An injury that requires surgery, for example, will likely result in higher compensation than one that does not. Other factors include the total amount of medical expenses and how much time the injured person was required to miss work.  One factor that may limit the ability to receive full compensation for an injury is if the negligent party that caused the accident has no insurance or only a minimal insurance policy. Because there are so many uninsured and minimally insured drivers on the roads, we advise our clients to purchase as much uninsured/underinsured auto insurance coverage as they can afford.

Cruciate Ligament Tear Symptoms

An injury to the ACL or the PCL will produce a slight difference in symptoms:

Common Symptoms of an ACL Injury

  • Pain in the knee
  • Swelling, which builds up over twenty-four hours
  • Loss of complete range of motion of the knee
  • Tenderness to palpation of the joint line
  • Pain and inability to walk on the affected leg
  • Unstable knee

Typical Signs of a PCL Injury

  • Pain in the knee
  • Immediate swelling of the knee
  • Difficulty or inability to walk on the affected leg
  • The knee feels like it is going to “give out”
Diagnosis of ACL and PCL Injury

The doctor will evaluate your injury by checking for knee instability and comparing the uninjured knee findings. In PCL injuries, the knee will sag backward when bent. In addition, it can slide further back when the knee bends at greater than a 90-degree angle. X-rays cannot show the actual ligament but can reveal if the ligament has torn off a piece of the bone at the time of the injury; this is known as an avulsion fracture.

An MRI is the best way to assess ligamentous injury in the knee joint. It uses radio waves and a strong magnet to visualize bones and soft tissues. If the injury occurred months before, however, it may not be revealed on an MRI scan.

Treatment of ACL and PCL Injury

The best treatment for an anterior cruciate ligament tear depends on the person’s needs. Athletes usually want to get back into sports. Older people may just want to be able to return to normal activities without problems.

The treatment of an ACL sprain can be nonsurgical or surgical. A full tear of the ACL will not heal without surgery. Even so, people with a low activity level or people who are elderly can tolerate having their ACL torn if the joint is basically stable. The doctor might recommend a knee brace to enhance the stability of the knee. Crutches or a walker limit the amount of weight-bearing on the affected leg.

If the swelling goes down, a program of careful rehab is recommended with exercises that strengthen the muscles around the knee. Physical therapy can take a few weeks up to a few months.

When treating the posterior cruciate ligament, many such injuries heal without surgery. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation can be good enough to treat the PCL. The doctor may then recommend a knee immobilizer to prevent knee movement. Crutches or a walker help to prevent putting too much weight on the knee.

Surgical Treatment of ACL/PCL Tear Injury

Surgical treatment is the definitive way to heal an ACL tear. Usually, the surgeon will use a tissue graft on the ligament that acts as a scaffold for the new ligament to grow back onto. Grafts can be taken from the patellar tendon, from the hamstring tendon, or from donor tissue.  Even with this kind of repair, it can be many months before the tendon is strong enough to be used fully.

The procedure is usually done arthroscopically. It is less invasive than normal surgery, and the individual heals faster from the procedure. It is usually delayed to allow the inflammation of the tendon to heal. If you repair the ACL ligament too early, there is an increase in scar formation of the joint. This can limit knee mobility over the long haul.

Doctors recommend surgical treatment if there are multiple injuries inside the knee. Usually, the knee is very unstable at that point and needs many aspects treated surgically. As with the ACL sprain, doctors use a tissue graft to rebuild the ligament with scaffolding. The graft comes from another body area or from a cadaver.

Rehabilitation of Cruciate Ligament Injuries

Rehabilitation is needed for an ACL/PCL tear and is used both with and without surgical intervention. Physical therapy increases the mobility and strength of the knee. It usually begins one to four weeks after surgery. Physical therapy can last several months, and it can take 6-12 months to fully recover. 

Watch the YouTube video. Below is a physical therapy video with ACL rehabilitation exercises.

Knee Ligament Injuries After a Car Accident

ACL and PCL injuries are often caused by high trauma events, such as car accidents. Whether you’ve suffered from an ACL or PCL injury, it’s still important to get your knee checked right away because the complications are just about the same for either injury. If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, call our experienced personal injury attorneys to set up a no-obligation consultation to go over the details of your potential claim.

Contact a Sacramento Personal Injury Lawyer 

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento personal injury lawyer. Are you suffering from an ACL/PCL injury due to an auto accident? Reach out to us if you need more information or would like to know about your legal options. If you have been injured in an accident, please call our injury attorneys for free and friendly advice at 916-921-6400 or 800-404-5400. 

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