Synovitis

Synovitis is swelling in the synovial membrane that lines some of your joints. It’s very common in people who have arthritis. A healthcare provider will prescribe treatments based on which joint is affected, how severe your symptoms are and what caused the synovitis.

Overview

An illustration of a knee joint experiencing synovitis.
Synovitis is swelling (inflammation) in the synovial membrane that lines some of your joints.

What is synovitis?

Synovitis is swelling (inflammation) in the synovial membrane that lines some of your joints. Arthritis and injuries to joints are the most common causes.

Any joint in your body that has a synovial membrane can develop synovitis. The most common joints affected by synovitis include your:

Synovitis happens when a synovial membrane or the fluid inside it is damaged or irritated. The affected synovial membrane swells up, thickens and causes pain and other symptoms inside your joints.

Visit a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing new joint pain or other symptoms, like stiffness or trouble moving a joint.

How common is it?

Synovitis is very common in people who have arthritis. Experts estimate that as many as two-thirds of people with certain types of arthritis experience synovitis at some point.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Symptoms and Causes

What are synovitis symptoms?

Symptoms of synovitis include:

  • Joint pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Warmth or a hot feeling around a joint.
  • Stiffness.
  • Trouble moving a joint.

What causes synovitis?

Arthritis is the most common cause of synovitis, including:

Any health condition or activity that puts a lot of stress on your joints can cause synovitis, including:

What are synovitis risk factors?

Anyone can experience synovitis. Some people who are more likely to develop synovitis include:

  • People with arthritis.
  • People with autoimmune disorders.
  • Athletes.
  • People who do manual labor.
Advertisement

Are there complications?

If it’s not treated, the inflammation from synovitis can permanently damage tissue inside your affected joint. This is an extra risk if you have chronic synovitis (synovitis that comes back frequently over time). This can make it harder for you to use your joint and permanently affect your range of motion (how far you can move a joint).

Diagnosis and Tests

How is synovitis diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will diagnose synovitis with a physical exam. They’ll ask you about your symptoms and check the range of motion in your affected joint. Tell your provider when you first noticed pain and other symptoms, and if certain activities make your symptoms worse.

Which tests are done to diagnose synovitis?

Your provider might order blood tests if they think an infection is causing your symptoms.

After a physical exam, you might need at least one of a few imaging tests, including:

Advertisement

Management and Treatment

How is synovitis treated?

A healthcare provider will suggest treatments for synovitis based on what’s causing it. Usually, your provider will prescribe treatments that focus on relieving your symptoms and lessening their impact on your daily routine.

Common synovitis treatments include:

  • Rest and stopping the activity that caused your synovitis.
  • Wearing a brace or splint to reduce stress on your joint.
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around your affected joint.

You might need some medications to reduce your symptoms and lower the swelling in your joint, including:

  • NSAIDs: Over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Corticosteroids: Your provider might give you an injection of anti-inflammatory corticosteroids.

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

Synovitis should gradually get better as you rest your joint and treat your symptoms. This could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the cause.

If you experience synovitis after trauma or a sports injury, it should improve as you recover. Ask your provider how long it’ll take to recover based on your symptoms and which joint is affected.

Prevention

How can I prevent synovitis?

It might be hard to prevent synovitis that’s caused by arthritis.

Following a diet and exercise plan that’s healthy for you and seeing your healthcare provider for regular checkups will help you maintain your overall health. This includes your joints and synovial membranes.

Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury to your joints:

  • Wear the right protective equipment for work, activities and sports.
  • Make sure your home and workspace are free of clutter that could trip you or others.
  • Always use the proper tools or equipment at home to reach things. Never stand on chairs, tables or countertops.
  • Use a cane, walker or other assistive devices if you have difficulty walking or have an increased risk of falls.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have synovitis?

You should expect synovitis to improve with treatment and time. Synovitis is temporary.

The best way to manage your synovitis symptoms is resting your affected joint. Your body needs time to heal. If your provider prescribes other treatments, make sure you follow them as best you can.

Will I need to miss work or school?

You might need to miss work or school while you’re recovering, depending on how severe your symptoms are, and if you can do your job or studies in a position that doesn’t put stress on your affected joint.

Talk to your provider before resuming any physical activities while you’re recovering from synovitis.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Visit a healthcare provider if you notice any pain or other symptoms in your joints, especially if they don’t improve in a few days.

See a provider as soon as possible if you have a fever and symptoms like swelling or a warm feeling around a joint. This might mean you have an infection that needs to be treated right away.

When should I go to the ER?

Go to the emergency room if you’ve experienced trauma. Go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain.
  • You think you have a broken bone (fracture).
  • You can’t use or move a part of your body.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

Questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What caused my symptoms?
  • How long will my symptoms last?
  • Will the synovitis come back in the future?
  • What kinds of treatment will I need?
  • Will I need any tests?

Additional Common Questions

What is the difference between synovitis and joint effusion?

If you’ve heard the phrase, “having fluid in your joints,” or “fluid between your joints,” it’s probably a reference to a joint effusion. Effusion is the medical term for swelling caused by a buildup of fluid around or inside a joint. The fluid makes your joint look larger and puffier than your other joints.

The fluid inside your synovial membranes is always there and is an important part of your joints’ ability to function as they should. This means that there’s always a small amount of fluid inside some of your joints, even when you’re healthy. Synovitis happens when one of your synovial membranes is damaged or irritated enough to swell.

An effusion is an excess of fluid beyond what’s there when your joint is healthy and working like it usually does.

What is the difference between synovitis and tendinitis?

Synovitis and tendinitis are both conditions that can cause pain and swelling around your joints. The difference is what’s affected.

Synovitis is swelling in a synovial membrane that lines some of your joints. Tendinitis (sometimes spelled tendonitis) is inflammation or irritation that affects one of your tendons, the ropelike bands of tissue that hold muscles and bones together.

No matter what’s causing your symptoms, visit a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing pain and swelling around one of your joints.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Synovitis is inflammation that affects the synovial membranes that line some of your joints. It can be a painful, frustrating condition that makes it hard to use your joints the way you’re used to. That’s especially true when arthritis or an injury causes synovitis. The good news is that it’s very treatable, and your symptoms should improve as soon as you start treatment.

Talk to your provider as soon as you notice pain or other new symptoms. Even if it’s mild, inflammation inside your joints can lead to more serious issues over time.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/18/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Ad
Appointments 216.444.2606