Plica Syndrome Workup

Updated: Dec 09, 2022
  • Author: Tracy Lee Bigelow, DO; Chief Editor: Thomas M DeBerardino, MD, FAAOS, FAOA  more...
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Approach Considerations

In addition to the history and physical examination, a radiograph is recommended to exclude other causes of knee pain. As stated previously, plica syndrome is difficult to differentiate from other pathology and remains a diagnosis of exclusion. Other adjunctive diagnostic studies include contrast pneumoarthrography and double-contrast arthrography, yet arthroscopy remains the diagnostic standard. [30, 31]


Imaging Studies

Plain radiographs of the knee are appropriate in the evaluation of a patient with plica syndrome. However, they are useful only in that they help eliminate other diagnoses. [32]

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is of limited value in detecting normal or pathologic plicae about the knee. [33] It rarely demonstrates these structures conclusively (see the image below). Jee et al published one of the only papers that touts the usefulness of MRI in diagnosing medial parapatellar plicae. [34] They reported 95% sensitivity and 72% specificity with their MRI approach. It should also be noted that plica syndrome has been a major research interest at their center. To the best of the authors' knowledge, no other center has matched these numbers.

Plica syndrome. Axial MRI demonstrating abundant m Plica syndrome. Axial MRI demonstrating abundant medial plical tissue.


Arthroscopy is the standard for definitive diagnosis of plica syndrome. [30, 31]  Most plicae are found incidentally during knee arthroscopy.

Munzinger classified the mediopatellar plica into four types on the basis of appearance, as follows [35] :

  • A - Cordlike
  • B - Shelflike, does not cover medial femoral condyle
  • C - Does cover medial femoral condyle
  • D - Double insertion

Other authors believe that to differentiate between symptomatic and asymptomatic plicae, the following criteria must be met upon arthroscopic examination:

  • Plica must appear
  • Impingement must be visualized
  • Chondromalacia must be present in the areas of impingement

Histologic Findings

The histology of a symptomatic plica is typically that of synovial tissue (type A macrophagelike cells and type B fibroblastlike cells) immersed in an inflammatory reaction. [36] In other instances, the histology may show dense fibrotic tissue that only secondarily impinges upon articular surfaces to produce pain. Kasim and Fulkerson found fibrosis, vascular proliferation, and small nerves with deceased myelin (neuromata) on histologic analysis of specimens from their plica patients. [26]



Jee et al staged medial parapatellar plicae according to how far the plica extends into the region of the patellofemoral joint, as follows [34] :

  • 1+ (does not extend to the medial edge of the patella)
  • 2+ (extends to the medial third of medial facet of the patella)
  • 3+ (extends over one third to two thirds of the medial facet)
  • 4+ (extends over more than two thirds of the medial facet)