Synovitis is a condition that can affect any joint within the foot (and throughout the body), causing pain in that specific joint. In the
feet, we most often see synovitis in the ankle, subtalar joint (below the ankle), the metatarsophalangeal joints at the ball of the foot,
and in the interphalangeal joints of the toes.
Synovitis describes the inflammation of the synovial membrane - the soft tissue lining that surrounds the joints. This lining produces synovial fluid, which helps lubricate and cushion the joints, allowing them to move smoothly and comfortably. When the synovial membrane becomes inflamed, it can produce excess synovial fluid and cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the affected joint. This is known as synovitis.
The most common cause of synovitis that we see in our clinic is from an injury to a joint, such as a sprain, strain or fracture. This may be
from a trauma to the joint, or from overuse that causes irritation or damage, resulting in the synovial membrane becoming inflamed.
Other causes of synovitis include infection (both bacterial and viral infections), autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, from the crystal deposits caused by gout or pseudogout, and in some cases, the cause is described as idiopathic (unknown).
The symptoms of synovitis can vary depending on the affected joint and the underlying cause, but the most common symptoms include:
Synovitis can be confidently diagnosed by our podiatrists in the clinic based on a comprehensive physical examination paired with your medical history and other personal factors. In many cases, synovitis is also accompanied by capsulitis, the inflammation of the capsule surrounding the joint, given they have the same mechanism of injury. Thankfully, both synovitis and capsulitis also respond to the same treatment.
The best treatment approach for synovitis will vary depending on which joint in the foot is affected. Generally, it involves removing the excess pressure and forces that caused the joint to become injured in the first place. This is why understanding all of the causes of your synovitis and joint damage with the help of your podiatrist is important - otherwise you may spend weeks not getting the results you want due to an incomplete picture of the problem. Your treatment may include:
Before you get in to see your podiatrist, resting the affected foot, avoiding movements that place further pressure on the joint, using ice, keeping the foot elevated and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can help reduce the swelling and therefore manage the pain.
If synovitis is left untreated, it can lead to ongoing and worsening joint pain, as well as damage to the surrounding cartilage, bone and other tissues that make up the joint. This can lead to stiffness and mobility restrictions over time, affecting your quality of life and ability to do the things you love.
Wearing good, supportive shoes, wearing your custom foot orthotics during exercise if you have them, avoiding overloading the joints in your feet, stretching before and after exercise, and keeping inflammatory conditions well managed can help reduce your risk of injuring one of your joints and developing synovitis.
For most of our patients where the cause is overloading their foot due to their foot posture or exercise routine, synovitis does not go away on its own. For cases where it is associated with gout or inflammatory arthritis, managing the arthritis can manage the synovitis, though this can take some time and we recommend getting some relief from your podiatrist sooner instead of waiting it out.
Again, this depends on the cause of your synovitis and your approach to treatment. With prompt care, you may notice a significant reduction in your symptoms even in the first week, and great relief after a few weeks. In other more complicated cases such as when it’s related to an inflammatory arthritis, synovitis may persist for months, however there is a lot that can be done to optimise your comfort during this time.