What Is Synovial Tissue?

Jillian O Keeffe

Tissue is a general term that refers to cells with a specialized function that collect together. Synovial tissue is a particular group of cells that are optimized to act as membranes for joints and coverings for tendons. While providing protection from physical damage, synovial tissue also helps to keep joint lubrication liquid inside the joints, which allows for movement of different parts of the body. Medical conditions where synovial tissue may be damaged include swollen joints and arthritis.

Synovial fluid and tissue acts as a membrane for joints like the ankles, knees, and toes.
Synovial fluid and tissue acts as a membrane for joints like the ankles, knees, and toes.

Connective tissue, of which synovial tissue is one kind, are all those types of cells that provide support and connections between the cells of the body. Ligaments, which attach a bone to anther bone, and tendons, which attach muscle to bone, are both types of connective tissue. Some joints with minor movement are held together by a substance called cartilage, but most joints involve cartilage along with synovial tissue.

Trauma to the synovial tissue in the wrist area can result in debilitating rigidity and pain.
Trauma to the synovial tissue in the wrist area can result in debilitating rigidity and pain.

Joints are locations in the body where one set of bones has to be attached to another set to allow for movement. Examples include the elbow and the knee, which both work like hinges on a door. Other joints may involve small bones, such as those in the wrist, which glide over each other; others again move in a system like a ball and socket, such as the shoulder.

Bursitis and tendonitis are issues with the synovial tissue that cause pain around the joints.
Bursitis and tendonitis are issues with the synovial tissue that cause pain around the joints.

The body uses other types of joints in various places, but most often, anywhere where the body has to move relative to itself, a synovial joint is present. Synovial cells, which are specialized to produce the collection of cells called synovial tissue, grow together in a sterile capsule covering the joint area, underneath a tougher layer of connective tissue. Inside the synovial covering, or synovial membrane, is fluid.

The elbow joint is an example of a synovial joint.
The elbow joint is an example of a synovial joint.

This fluid is produced by the synovial tissue which encapsulates it. Its function is to help the bones of the joint move freely relative to each other, in the same way as lubricant allows engine parts to run smoothly. Production of fluid is the main reason for the presence of synovial cells. The bones inside the joint are themselves covered in a thin layer of cartilage, which the synovial membrane uses as its anchor point for attachment.

Most joints have both cartilage and synovial tissue.
Most joints have both cartilage and synovial tissue.

Inside the synovial membrane, apart from fluid, may be other forms of tissue. Some joints contain pads of cartilage for an increased resistance to pressure. Bursae are also present in some joints, and these are extra capsules of synovial tissue and fluid that add more lubrication than otherwise to the joint. Damage to the synovial areas of the body can produce pain, swelling and reduced movement in the affected joints.

Damage to the synovial areas of the body, including the elbow, can produce pain and swelling.
Damage to the synovial areas of the body, including the elbow, can produce pain and swelling.

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