What Is Knee Plica Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed by Sanjay Ponkshe on June 03, 2023
2 min read

There are many causes of knee pain, but yours could be the result of a small part of your knee called the plica.

A plica is a fold in the thin tissue that lines your knee joint. Most people have four of them in each knee. They let you bend and move your leg with ease.

One of the four folds, the medial plica, sometimes gets irritated from an injury or if you overuse your knee. This is known as plica syndrome. It can happen over time to people who run, ride a bike, or use a stair machine, or if you start exercising more than usual. It can also come after trauma to your knee, like bumping it on the dashboard during a car accident.

If you have plica syndrome, your knee may hurt and swell. It may lock, give way, catch, or make a clicking sound.

People with the condition say their knee doesn’t feel stable. It hurts to walk up or down stairs. It feels achy and may be worse at night or when you’re active. It can hurt to squat, bend, or get up after you sit for a long time.

It can be hard to diagnose knee plica syndrome. The signs are like those of other knee problems. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor to find out the cause of your pain.

The doctor will ask you questions about how you feel and do a physical exam. Even though an X-ray can’t show knee plica syndrome, the doctor may want you to get one anyway to rule out other knee problems.

Knee plica problems usually get better without surgery. You’ll need to rest your knee for a while and put ice on it. Your doctor may suggest anti-inflammatory pain medicine, like ibuprofen or naproxen, and stretching your leg muscles, especially your quadriceps and hamstrings. Some exercises can help strengthen those muscles over time to keep the problem from coming back. These include straight leg presses, mini-squats, walking, riding an exercise bike, or swimming. You can see a physical therapist to get a specific regimen that will help with your pain.

If the problem doesn’t get better, the next step may be surgery, probably a type called arthroscopy. The surgeon makes small cuts and inserts a tiny camera and thin tool to see and remove the damaged tissue. Your doctor will probably suggest physical therapy after the operation. Exercise can help with stiffness and swelling as you heal. It helps your knee get stronger.

If you have knee pain and aren’t sure why, make an appointment to see your doctor. Take a break from intense exercise. Use ice. And take good care of those knees -- you need them to stay strong and healthy.