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What Is Synovitis of the Knee?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Synovitis of the knee is an inflammation of the lining of the knee joint, leading to pain and stiffness. It is the result of a buildup of synovial fluid, which normally lubricates the joint and keeps it moving smoothly. Trauma or arthritis are usually the causes and there are treatments available. The best treatment depends on the specifics of the case, and usually it is easier to treat when it is caught early.

In synovitis of the knee, the patient's knee joint starts to swell as a result of pressure created by excessive synovial fluid. The lining of the joint develops an inflammatory response, and the patient will notice pain, stiffness, and popping noises when trying to move the joint. Sometimes the joint becomes so painful that it is virtually impossible to bend. This condition is more common in athletes, as they put a lot of stress on their knees, but it can also happen to patients with arthritis as well as patients recovering from knee surgeries.

The knee may be tender on palpation and usually feels hot. A doctor who suspects knee synovitis can draw a fluid sample to look for signs of inflammation like lots of white blood cells. Medical imaging studies of the joint can also be helpful. Immediate treatment is rest, ice, compression, and elevation to see if it is possible to suppress the inflammation and restore normal joint function. If this appears to work, the patient can gradually resume normal activities to build up strength in the knee.

Patients who do not respond to conservative treatment may need steroid injections in the knee to reduce the swelling associated with synovitis of the knee. These will reduce pain and increase comfort, allowing the patient to start pursuing physical therapy to strengthen the joint again. In severe cases, the recommended treatment may be a knee replacement surgery, which can be total or partial. This surgery requires an expert surgeon and a lengthy recovery to allow the patient's knee to fully heal before returning to regular activity levels.

A patient with chronic synovitis of the knee or repeat flareups is at increased risk of permanent damage and the need for a knee replacement. If a patient keeps returning to the doctor for treatment, this may be a sign that the patient needs physical therapy, a longer rest period, or radical lifestyle changes, including a change of career or hobby to reduce stress on the joint.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Jun 09, 2013

@anamur-- What activity caused him to get synovitis?

I thought that synovitis usually shows up after knee replacement surgery.

By bluedolphin — On Jun 09, 2013

@anamur-- Is your dad taking anti-inflammatory medication?

I'm actually going through the same thing right now. My doctor told me to put ice as well, but she also has me on anti-inflammatory medications and told me to do some slow walking everyday. She doesn't want me to lie still all day.

It's been a week and my knee is already doing a lot better. Hopefully I won't need any physical therapy or any other treatments.

I've heard that in some serious cases, there is an electric shop therapy that is used to treat synovitis. It doesn't sound like much fun so I'm crossing my fingers that the inflammation goes down completely by next week.

By serenesurface — On Jun 08, 2013

How long does it take for knee synovitis to heal?

My dad's knees became swollen all of the sudden. He went to the doctor and was told that it's synovitis. He's been told to rest at home, elevate his leg and put ice on it. He's been doing this for the past three days and there is no improvement.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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