3 Things Swimmers Need to Know About Synovial Plica Syndrome

Synovial plica syndrome, also known as plica syndrome, is a knee injury that athletes may experience. The plica is part of your knee's synovial capsule—the tissues that form the cushioning between the bones of your knee joint—and it can become inflamed or irritated due to sports activities. Here are three things swimmers need to know about synovial plica syndrome.

How does swimming cause this injury?

No matter what stroke you're practicing, your legs are doing a lot of work. The repetitive kicking, lap after lap, irritates your plica, making it swollen, thickened and irritated. The plica is a naturally elastic tissue, but prolonged inflammation makes it fibrous and stiff. The scarred plica then gets caught on the medial condyle of your femur, which is a projection on your lower femur (thigh bone), and leads to the symptoms of synovial plica syndrome.

What are the signs of synovial plica syndrome?

The main symptom of synovial plica syndrome is an aching pain in the medial (inner) part of your knee. This pain tends to be worse during activity, so it will flare up while you're swimming and may keep you from being able to swim.

The pain can keep you from doing your everyday activities, too. You may have trouble going up or down stairs, squatting to pick something up, or getting out of a chair after you've been sitting. Your knee may also give out while you're walking or standing.

Sitting for long periods of time can be uncomfortable and you may find yourself needing to stretch or move your knees to keep them from locking up. If you notice these signs, see your doctor. Doctors can usually diagnose synvoial plica syndrome through a physical exam, but in some cases, additional tests such as x-rays are required.

How is synovial plica syndrome treated?

This injury is treated with physiotherapy. During physiotherapy, you'll work on strengthening your quadriceps and stretching your hamstrings. Your quadriceps are directly attached to your plicas, while tight hamstrings can contribute to plica irritation. During this time, it's important that you avoid activities that make your knees hurt, like swimming. However, your physiotherapist may recommend a walking or cycling program, so this doesn't mean that you need to be a couch potato while you heal. Once your knee has recovered, you'll be able to slowly ease back into swimming.

If your knees hurt while you swim, you may have synovial plica syndrome and should see your doctor for an examination and quality health care.