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Difference Between ACL, MCL, and PCL Injuries

Your knees are tough and durable. They give you support when you walk, jump, and run. And when you’re working or playing hard, your knees are doing hard work right along with you.

Three of the key ligaments in the knee that keep the joint stable include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). Injuries to these ligaments are commonly the result of a fast, quick movement of the knee ligaments that results in a tear. Abrupt changes in direction, landing wrong, or taking a rough impact may result in injury.

Of course, every injury is a bit different, depending on which ligament is damaged. Here’s a closer look at the differences between ACL, MLC, and PCL injuries.

ACL Injuries

Anterior cruciate ligament injuries happen to be the most common type of knee ligament injury. Sharp turns while moving, such as turning the knee in a different direction from your feet — particularly at high speed — may result in a strain, sprain, or tear of the ACL. Athletes involved in skiing, basketball, football, or other impact sports are more likely to experience ACL damage.

An injured ACL can take weeks, or even months, to heal. Physical therapy and knee braces are both required when recovering from this type of injury. If the ligament is completely torn, then surgical repair may be required.

MCL Injuries

Injuries to the medial collateral ligament generally occur when there’s an impact on the outer area of the knee. These types of injuries are more likely to occur in athletes playing contact sports, such as football or hockey.

When the MCL gets damaged, knee instability usually occurs, and people have difficulty walking. Depending on how bad an MCL injury is, physical therapy, orthotics, or even surgery may be required for a full recovery.

PCL Injuries

A direct impact right below the knee or accidentally landing on a knee that’s bent may result in an injury to the posterior cruciate ligament. This type of injury commonly occurs in car crashes, and it’s often called a dashboard injury because it generally occurs when the knee hits the dashboard at a high intensity. This type of injury is also common in sports like football and soccer.

After a PCL injury, most people notice swelling within hours after the injury, and the knee may feel like it’s going to give out. The painful injury requires treatment with orthotics and physical therapy, and surgery may be required, depending on the extent of the damage to the PCL.

Surgery at Prime

Severe damage to your ACL, MCL, or PCL could require surgical intervention, and at Prime Surgical Suites, we offer the region’s best surgeons to put your mind at ease. Our focus on comprehensive patient-centered care gives our patients peace of mind, and our state-of-the-art facilities are unparalleled in the region. If you require knee surgery to repair a ligament, Prime Surgical Suites provides the most advanced technical-care from professionals whose main focus is helping you recover and return to your normal lifestyle.


At Prime Surgical Suites, we provide state-of-the-art, cost-effective musculoskeletal surgical care in a convenient and comfortable outpatient setting for patients of all ages. Located in RiverCrest Medical Park, we are the region's first outpatient center focused exclusively on orthopedics. Our physician-led center will help restore your active lifestyle and well-being with compassion and orthopedic excellence.