Synovitis: Inflammation Could Be Trouble for Your Spine

Artists depiction of active inflammation at the sacroiliac joints.
Artists depiction of active inflammation at the sacroiliac joints. SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images


Synovitis is inflammation of the synovial membrane of any joint in the body.

Synovial membranes are like linings on the inside of joints. A synovial membrane also secretes synovial fluid to nourish cartilage and lubricate the joint.  Synovial fluid functions as the joint's WD-40 supply - it keeps the moving parts running smoothly.

As discussed at the end of this article synovitis is one type of active inflammation that affects people with spondylitis.

 (Spondylitis is a form of inflammatory arthritis.)  

Learn more about active inflammation: Types of Active Inflammation.

Synovitis and Osteoarthritis

Synovitis may include pain when you move the affected part and swelling.  Along with being an early sign of inflammatory arthritis, it is common in osteoarthritis, and according to Wenham and Conaghan, in their 2010 entitled, "The Role of Synovitis in Osteoarthritis."   This study was published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease.  The researchers say osteoarthritis-related synovitis is associated not only with symptoms you may experience, but with the progression of structural changes that tend to occur with the condition, as well.

Wenham and Conagham say that the gold standard for diagnosing synovitis is getting a tissue sample (called histology.) They list three types of changes that occur in the synovial tissue in cases of osteoarthritis.

 They are:  The synovial lining thickens, it develops more capillaries and inflammatory cells infiltrate the area.  The researchers say that an MRI can be used at first to detect the synovial thickening.  Then the tissue sample can be taken to confirm that this finding is truly a thickening of the synovium, 

If you have synovitis, your doctor may suggest or prescribe NSAIDs to control the inflammation and pain. Sometimes cortisone injections are given for synovitis, as well. 

Wenham and Conaghan say that many osteoarthritis treatments address the synovium, although more studies are needed to determine exactly what role this strategy may play in terms of pain relief, control of inflammation and slowing or stopping the progression of the disease.

Synovitis  as Active Inflammation - Getting an MRI

As mentioned above, synovitis is often found at the sacroiliac joints when you have an inflammatory arthritis disease such as spondylitis, and is considered to be an active inflammatory lesion.

Active inflammation is an early indicator of spondylitis.  An example of spondylitis is ankloysing spondylitis - a chronic disease in which the axial skeleton (basically, the spine and pelvis) fuses over time. Anklylosing spondylitis, as well as other forms of inflammatory arthritis, starts with active inflammation at the sacroiliac joints.

The other types of active inflammation include enthesitis and capsulitis and osteitis.  Each of these forms of inflammation are similar to one another except that they occur in different places in the joint.  For example, enthesitis is a term that means inflammation of the tendons and ligaments (where they attach to the bone.)  And osteitis refers to inflammation of the bone itself.  

RelatedOsteitis and Spondylitis

For people with spondylitis, an MRI using one of several specialized techniques is generally necessary to find evidence of synovitis and the other types of active inflammatory lesions.


Wenham, C. BM, BS, MRCP, Clinical Research Fellow, Conaghan, P., MBBS, PhD, FRACP, FRCP. The Role of Synovitis in Osteoarthritis. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. Dec 2010. Accessed Feb. 2016.

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