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What is a Joint Capsule?

By Alex Terris
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A joint capsule is a piece of tissue that surrounds a synovial joint. Its purpose is to hold the synovial fluid of the joint in place, as well as to provide an envelope for the entire joint. The capsule provides an important function to all synovial joints, but it can cause problems, such as frozen shoulder, osteoarthritis, and inflamed plica syndrome, when not functioning properly.

The most common type of joint in the human body is the synovial joint, which contains fluid that helps to lubricate movement. Fibrous joints do not contain either synovial fluid or a joint capsule. Joints containing this fluid can perform a number of different actions, including abduction, extension, and rotation.

Synovial joints appear in the body in a number of different forms. For example, the elbow is a simple hinge joint, while the hip is a more complicated ball-and-socket joint that allows a greater range of movement. Joint capsules are present in all of these joints.

The capsule is made up of two separate layers. The first is an outer layer that contains a fibrous, colorless tissue. The second, inner layer is often called the synovial membrane. Both of these layers need to be in a healthy state in order for the joint to move as it should.

An example of a problem that can be caused when this tissue is not working correctly is frozen shoulder. This is caused by the shoulder capsule undergoing a thickening, which then inhibits movement of the joint. The most common symptoms include the shoulder becoming stiff and painful, and in many cases, the shoulder will follow a predictable progression where it will "freeze up" before entering the "frozen" stage. This malady can last for up to a year before the shoulder begins to work normally again.

Plica syndrome affects the joint capsule in the knee, and it occurs when the synovial tissue surrounding the joint becomes inflamed. In many cases, this is due to repeated strain being placed on the joint during activities such as running or jumping. There are some cases, however, where a direct impact injury may cause the capsule to become inflamed. Plica syndrome is often difficult to diagnose, as some of the symptoms are similar to other, more common knee injuries, such as patellofemoral syndrome and IT band syndrome. If the injury cannot be managed, then surgery is occasionally necessary to remove the plica.

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Discussion Comments
By anon334423 — On May 12, 2013

Joint exercises are really good for your health.

By ginSoul — On Jun 19, 2011

A version of freezing shoulder (or adhesive capsulitis) can also occur in the knee joint. My grandpa has always had problems with his joints, and this is his most recent condition. In case you're curious, this has some of the same symptoms as osteoarthritis, including pain and restricted movement.

By parklinkz — On Jun 16, 2011

@SushiChamp – I have an old shoulder injury from a car wreck a few years back, and I’ve noticed it always feels better after a good upper body workout. It seems less stiff and it hurts less. I guess it must be the exercise.

By SushiChamp — On Jun 15, 2011

Joint exercise is really good for people with arthritis and other joint capsule ailments, and a good way to prevent joint disease. It gets your Synovial fluid moving, allowing it to absorb nutrients and oxygen from the blood vessels that surround the capsule. This is the only way your joints can get these components, since joints don’t have blood vessels in them.

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