Synovitis – From all star athletes to you and me…

Peter Wishnie, D.P.M.
Owner of Family Foot & Ankle Specialists in Piscataway & Hillsborough, NJ

At some point in our hectic hustle and bustle lives, everyone will experience a foot and ankle injury. From professional football players, to Olympic gymnasts to the weekend warrior and the guy who hits the gym a few days a week to stay in shape, everyone will get “injured” at some point in their lives. One of the more common injuries that we experience in the foot and ankle is synovitis.

In essence, synovitis is the medical term for an inflammation of the synovial membrane found in joints. The synovial membrane is a thin layer of tissue that lines the inside of joints. The function of the synovium or synovial membrane is to produce synovial fluid, which is the fluid inside a joint that lubricates the movements of bones on each other. It is commonly confused with the cartilage of a joint but keep in mind that the synovial membrane and cartilage are two completely discreet structures.

Causes:

So if synovitis is an inflammation of the synovial membrane, how to do we get it? Simply put, overuse. Whenever we walk, run or jump our joints move in order to make these actions happen. If one over exerts a joint i.e. uses it too much without adequate periods of rest, like Lady Gaga, the joint and synovium will become irritated. This causes the body to overproduce synovial fluid within that joint. This will result in pain and swelling, sometimes so severe that the joint will hurt each and every time one moves. As you can imagine, when synovitis in the foot or ankle occurs it can be particularly disabling since we live our lives on our feet.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of synovitis will often start with a nagging pain and/or swelling in a joint during and after use. It may not bother you at rest or when inactive but without proper rest and treatment, the condition can cause you to be in pain all the time. Other symptoms will be muscle and joint tenderness, excessive swelling within a joint or development of painful nodules, or hard lumps in and around a joint.

Treatment:

Treatment for synovitis should always be under the guidance of a professional. We here at Family Foot & Ankle Specialists in Hillsborough NJ often take an aggressive approach to treat synovitis in the foot and ankle because it is a condition that can recur without proper treatment.  

Treatment centers on the RICE principle, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Resting the enflamed joint is mandatory and this can be accomplished in several ways. In severe cases, crutches may be necessary to completely offload the extremity. In most cases though a soft cast for compression and a walking cast boot are indicated. In addition to immobilization and rest, your physician will often prescribe either an oral or topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. This helps the synovial fluid to calm down and not produce so much fluid. Lastly, your physician may want to inject the joint with a corticosteroid to decrease pain and inflammation.

Specific treatment of course will depend on the underlying cause of the synovitis. For best results, I highly recommend seeing a footcare specialist to diagnose and treat your synovitis. If you decide to treat this condition on your own, you may be setting yourself up for failure and chronic destruction of the joint.