Ankle Synovitis Prevention and Treatment
Learn what Ankle Synovitis is; what causes it; plus correct prevention and treatment strategies.
by Brad Walker | First Published May 9, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2017
The ankle joint is susceptible to many injuries: Sprains, fractures and arthritic conditions are common in the ankles. Athletes, who commonly make quick direction changes and run on uneven surfaces, are at a higher risk for ankle injuries.
The ankle joint consists of the distal end of the tibia and fibula and the proximal end of the talus. These bones are held together by several strong, fibrous ligaments and tendons. The ends of the bones are protected by cartilage and the space in the joint is protected and cushioned by a synovial membrane. This is why the ankle is considered a synovial joint.
The synovial membrane, and the fluid contained within it, help provide cushioning for the large forces placed on the joint, and the constant impact of walking, running and jumping. The fluid also lubricates the joint to allow for movement. This tissue, like any tissue, can become inflamed and irritated.
If you suffer from ankle synovitis or are seeking to prevent its occurrence it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
What is Ankle Synovitis?
Ankle Synovitis is an injury to the synovial membrane in the ankle. It is an inflammation of the synovium that causes pain and swelling. This inflammation can result in excess fluid leaking into the joint, which can result in a blockage of nutrients to the surrounding surfaces, a degradation of the cartilage, and instability in the joint. The inflammation may also result in swelling of the membrane placing extra pressure on the surfaces of the joint.
Anatomy of the Ankle
The ankle joint is surrounded by a synovial membrane that cushions and protects the bone ends that articulate the ankle joint. This membrane provides cushion and lubrication for the joint. Although the ends of the bones involved, the tibia, fibula, and talus, are covered with cartilage, the synovial membrane cushions the open space, keeping the bone ends separated just enough to allow movement. The synovial fluid also provides lubrication to the joint, which further protects the bones and reduces friction.
This membrane can become inflamed and cause an increase in the fluid inside the cavity or swell, causing increased pressure on the structures of the joint. This may cause an uneven, or excessive, wear to the cartilage at the end of the bones.
What Causes Ankle Synovitis?
Ankle synovitis can be caused by prior injuries to the joint, such as sprains or fractures. These injuries may result in acute damage directly to the synovial membrane, or they could cause an imbalance or misalignment of the bones leading to a chronic condition. Chronic imbalance or misalignment issues can also cause irritation to the synovium. It can also be caused by an infection, either bacterial or viral, in the area. Rheumatoid arthritis or gout may lead to synovitis. Reduced strength or muscular imbalances are also possible causes for injuries to the synovial membrane.
Signs and Symptoms
This condition may be accompanied by pain and heat in the ankle joint. The pain may range from mild aching to a sharp burning pain. Swelling and inflammation deep in the ankle joint may also be associated with ankle synovitis. It may or may not be visible on the exterior of the joint. A reduced range of motion and loss of function may occur, depending on the degree of pain and inflammation involved. When excess fluid is released into the joint, or severe swelling occurs within the synovium, a tightness may be felt in the joint itself, further reducing range of motion.
Rest, ice and NSAIDs will help reduce the inflammation and reduce stress on the synovial membrane. Heat may be used later to improve function and reduce stiffness within the joint. Corticosteroid injections and a walking cast (or boot) may be necessary for more severe injury.
A correction of the condition that caused the inflammation will also be required to prevent it from occurring again. This may require intervention by a physical therapist or sports medicine professional. Orthotic devices might help correct imbalances and structural issues within the foot. This condition will usually respond in 3 to 5 weeks of treatment.
Prevention for ankle synovitis itself may be difficult due to the secondary nature of this injury, but avoiding the injuries or disease processes that can lead to this condition will help reduce the likelihood of developing synovitis.
- A proper warm up will help prepare the muscles, and joints, for any activity they might be called upon to complete. This helps reduce the effects of any existing muscle imbalances and prepares the muscles to support and protect the joints during the activity.
- Avoid activities that cause pain. This should be a common sense rule, but many athletes try to push through the pain hoping it will just go away. Pain is a signal from your body that something is not right, listen to it and avoid those activities until they are pain free.
- Adequate rest between training sessions helps reduce chronic, or overuse, injuries. Rest time is when the body repairs and rebuilds previous damage. Without rest time built into a program the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are not allowed to heal.
- Proper nutrition and hydration are also important because the nutrients needed to keep the muscles, bones, and joints healthy come from the foods taken in throughout the day. Water is needed to keep the many processes of metabolism going and to replenish moisture lost through perspiration, respiration, and urination.
- Use of tape or other ankle strapping to protect the injury while playing on uneven surfaces, or during contact sports, may also protect the joint from injury.
- Reversing any conditions that might cause injury to the synovium is also important for prevention. Correcting muscle imbalances and structural abnormalities will reduce the stress on the joint and synovial membrane, which will help reduce injuries.
- And finally… Good strength and flexibility will help reduce most injuries. Increasing overall strength helps provide a protective support system for the bones and joints, by strengthening the muscles and tendons. Improving flexibility allows the joints to go through a larger range of motion without incurring injuries. It also improves the ability of the muscles to contract and protect in those extended ranges.
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.