Suffering from joint pain can prevent you from enjoying your life. Every movement you make becomes a constant reminder that something just isn’t right. While you may be tempted to shrug off that dull pain, ignoring the issue may cause more harm than good in the long run.

After all, the underlying causes of joint pain often include both chronic and debilitating conditions. Although synovitis is a fairly common cause of joint pain, for example, the presence of synovitis may also indicate a more serious issue that requires immediate attention. As such, recognizing the signs of synovitis and acting promptly can be crucial in safeguarding your health.

Let’s take a closer look at synovitis and how you can access effective treatments to alleviate your discomfort.

What is Synovitis?

Synovitis refers to inflammation of the synovium, a membrane that lines your joints. This protective tissue is very thin and produces a liquid—known as synovial fluid—that nourishes and lubricates your joints.

When the synovium becomes irritated or inflamed, it thickens, producing excess synovial fluid and leading to pain.

Understanding the Synovium

Many of your joints are surrounded by a capsule. This bubble-like structure consists of a tougher outer layer and a softer inner layer. This inside layer is known as the synovium.

The synovium performs two main functions:

  • It determines what can pass into the joint space, and
  • Creates synovial fluid.

In fact, you can find synovial fluid inside both layers of the joint capsule. This viscous liquid assists in lubricating the joints to reduce friction during motion. The inflammation of the synovium—aka, synovitis—is usually a secondary condition caused by another ailment such as arthritis or an injury.

Top Causes of Synovitis

Just about anyone can develop some type of synovitis. This even includes children!

For example, otherwise healthy people can experience synovitis by overusing a particular joint. Athletes, for instance, may develop the condition after sustaining an injury. Likewise, those who perform jobs that require heavy lifting or other repetitive movements are also more prone to synovitis.

Furthermore, certain medical conditions can also trigger synovitis. These conditions include:

  • Gout: A type of arthritis that results from having too much uric acid in the blood. This condition can affect just about any joint in the body, but it usually occurs in the big toe.
  • Inflammatory arthritis: Inflammation of the joints can cause your body’s immune system to attack excess synovium. This response can cause a breakdown of the joint’s cartilage.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: A progressive autoimmune disease that causes the joints and organs to swell.
  • Lupus: An autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack itself and destroy otherwise healthy tissues.
  • Rheumatic fever: Some untreated streptococcal infections—like scarlet fever or strep throat—may trigger synovitis.
  • Tuberculosis (TB): This highly contagious bacterial infection usually affects the lungs. Likewise, TB bacteria can also cause swelling and inflammation in the joints.

In rare instances, some children may develop a temporary form of synovitis known as transient or toxic synovitis. This condition, which commonly occurs in children ages 3- to 10-years-old, involves hip pain—usually just on one side. Transient synovitis, as the name suggests, is typically only a temporary condition.

Identifying Synovitis Symptoms 

Synovitis can be tricky to diagnose. However, the main symptom that patients experience is joint pain. This pain can come and go and may even be felt in different joints of the body. Synovitis that occurs due to overuse or injury, however, remains in the same joint.

For some patients, there may be no visible indicators of synovitis. You experience joint pain but not notice any outward swelling of the joints. Other patients, however, may notice a little swelling or redness in the affected area.

Other synovitis symptoms associated with synovitis may include warmth, tenderness, or a joint that feels “spongy.” Joint stiffness and limited motion may also be present, feeling its worst in the morning.

Where Does Synovitis Commonly Occur?

Synovitis can affect just about any joint. There are, however, some common locations where synovitis can develop. Joints that are usually affected by synovitis include the:

  • Hips
  • Shoulders
  • Wrists
  • Fingers
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Toes

Is Synovitis Serious?

Untreated synovitis can lead to permanent joint damage. Over time, this condition may even destroy nearby bone and cartilage in the joint. But that’s not all. Synovitis can also damage other structures that support the joint like the tendons—the tissues that connect our muscles to our bones.

As the condition progresses, a damaged joint may even become deformed or fuse together entirely. As a result, normal range of motion and mobility may become difficult or even impossible to negotiate.

Diagnosing Synovitis

The symptoms of synovitis often mimic other joint conditions like labrum tears or articular cartilage damage. To make matters even more confusing, synovitis is often caused by another issue (e.g. arthritis or gout). Consulting with a doctor to obtain an accurate diagnosis is the best way to determine which treatment will work best for your situation.

How is Synovitis Diagnosed?

A thorough physical examination and review of your medical history is often the first step in diagnosing synovitis. Often, your medical history will alert your doctor to any conditions that might be causing your synovitis. Your doctor will ask you questions about your joint symptoms and activities that aggravate your pain. In addition, you may also be asked if you are experiencing any other symptoms like weight loss, fever, or chills.

During the physical exam, your doctor will take a closer look at the joint for any visible symptoms of synovitis. Your doctor may also conduct a series of muscular strength tests to detect any pain or loss of movement. Likewise, the physical exam can also alert the doctor to any issues with ligaments or tendons.

A physical exam alone, however, may not be enough to reach an accurate diagnosis. More decisive visualization techniques may be used, such as:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This diagnostic imaging technique allows the doctor to achieve a clearer view of your synovium. An MRI can even detect early-stage synovitis before more serious symptoms develop.
  • Musculoskeletal ultrasound: The same technology that gives you the first glimpse of your developing baby can also enable your doctor to take a closer look at any abnormalities that exist in the joints, muscles, or tendons.
  • X-rays: Bone abnormalities can be easily detected with x-rays of the suspected joint.
  • Complete blood count (CBC): If the cause of your synovitis is a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, analyzing the blood can help to confirm a diagnosis.
  • Joint biopsy: A procedure to remove some of the fluid in the joint. Synovial fluid affected by synovitis is easily detected with a joint biopsy.

Once you have received an accurate diagnosis, your doctors can determine how best to treat your synovitis and any underlying causes.

Best Synovitis Treatment

Conservative treatments are often effective for less serious cases of synovitis. Taking a break from activities that aggravate the pain is usually the first step. You may also be asked to apply cold packs or elevate the area depending on which joint is affected. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, may also help to reduce pain and swelling.

Those suffering from synovitis due to arthritis may be prescribed medications to help manage their condition. If your synovitis results from gout, certain medications can be administered to reduce the uric acid levels in your body.

Likewise, you can access physical therapy to restore function to an affected joint. If your synovitis is due to overuse or injury, a physical therapist can recommend certain exercises or activity modifications to prevent future issues.

Corticosteroid Injections for Synovitis

If conservative treatments don’t seem to help, your doctor may elect to try steroid injections. These injections use a hormone—cortisone—that the body produces naturally via the adrenal glands. When this hormone is injected directly into the joint, it can reduce inflammation.

For best results, your doctor will use x-ray imaging (aka fluoroscopy) or ultrasound to achieve proper needle placement into the joint. This step is crucial to ensuring that any adjacent nerves do not suffer damage as a result of the injection.

To prevent the patient from experiencing any pain during the injection, your doctor will administer a local anesthetic prior to the procedure. Although you will likely experience some tenderness in the days following the procedure, any pain should be mild and short-lived.

If you have excess fluid accumulating around the joint, your doctor may take this opportunity to extract the material.

Surgery for Synovitis

Surgery may also be an option for more severe cases of synovitis. Depending on the location and severity of your condition, your surgeon may use open or minimally invasive techniques. The procedure in question, a synovectomy, removes the affected synovium from the joint.

After surgery, your joint may be immobilized with a removable cast. Physical therapy can help with the recovery process. A physical therapist works to restore range of motion to the joint and teach you how and when you should use it.

What you need to know about a synovectomy:

  • This procedure is usually only recommended after a patient has attempted conservative treatments for six to twelve months.
  • A synovectomy may not cure the disease, just help manage synovitis symptoms.
  • In some cases, a synovectomy may only provide temporary relief.
  • Risks of a synovectomy include infection and bleeding in the joint.

Ready to Get Relief for Your Synovitis?

As you can see, treating synovitis is not always easy. You want to make sure you have a team of doctors that can accurately diagnose and treat your joint pain.

Excelsia Injury Care is dedicated to providing you with effective treatment for all orthopedic issues. Our team takes the time to get to know you, your condition, and your treatment goals. From there, we work with you to tailor a treatment plan that suits your specific needs.

We use the latest technology and research to provide you with cutting-edge pain management techniques. To reclaim your life from chronic pain, contact Excelsia today!