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Synovial joint

Synovial joint
File:907 Synovial Joints.jpg
Structure of synovial joint
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Types of synovial joints. Clockwise from top-right: Ball and socket joint, Condyloid joint, Plane joint, Saddle joint, Hinge joint and Pivot joint.
Latin junctura synovialis
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Anatomical terminology

A synovial joint, also known as diarthrosis, is the most common and most movable type of joint in the body of a mammal. As with most other joints, synovial joints achieve movement at the point of contact of the articulating bones.

Structural and functional differences distinguish synovial joints from cartilaginous joints (synchondroses and symphyses) and fibrous joints (sutures, gomphoses, and syndesmoses). The main structural differences between synovial and fibrous joints are the existence of capsules surrounding the articulating surfaces of a synovial joint and the presence of lubricating synovial fluid within those capsules (synovial cavities).


Synovial joints contain the following structures:

  • Synovial cavity: all diarthroses have the characteristic space between the bones that is filled with synovial fluid
  • Articular capsule: the fibrous capsule, continuous with the periosteum of articulating bones, surrounds the diarthrosis and unites the articulating bones; the articular capsule consists of two layers - (1) the outer fibrous membrane that may contain ligaments and (2) the inner synovial membrane that secretes the lubricating, shock absorbing, and joint-nourishing synovial fluid; the articular capsule is highly innervated, but avascular (lacking blood and lymph vessels), and receives nutrition from the surrounding blood supply via either diffusion (a slow process) or by convection, a far more efficient process achieved through exercise
  • Articular cartilage: the bones of a synovial joint are covered by this layer of hyaline cartilage that lines the epiphyses of joint end of bone with a smooth, slippery surface that does not bind them together; articular cartilage functions to absorb shock and reduce friction during movement

Many, but not all, synovial joints also contain additional structures:[1]

  • Articular discs or menisci - the fibrocartilage pads between opposing surfaces in a joint
  • Articular fat pads - adipose tissue pads that protect the articular cartilage, as seen in the infrapatellar fat pad in the knee
  • Tendons[1] - cords of dense regular connective tissue composed of parallel bundles of collagen fibers
  • Accessory ligaments (extracapsular and intracapsular) - the fibers of some fibrous membranes are arranged in parallel bundles of dense regular connective tissue that are highly adapted for resisting strains to prevent extreme movements that may damage the articulation[citation needed]
  • Bursae - saclike structures that are situated strategically to alleviate friction in some joints (shoulder and knee) that are filled with fluid that is similar to synovial fluid[2][page needed]

The bone surrounding the joint on the proximal side is sometimes called the plafond, especially in the talocrural joint. A damage to this occurs in a Gosselin fracture.

Blood supply

The blood supply of a synovial joint is derived from the arteries sharing in the anastomosis around the joint.


There are six types of synovial joints.[3] Some are relatively immobile, but are more stable. Others have multiple degrees of freedom, but at the expense of greater risk of injury.[3] In ascending order of mobility, they are:

Name Example Description
Gliding joints (or plane joints) carpals of the wrist, acromioclavicular joint These joints allow only gliding or sliding movements, are multi-axial such as the articulation between vertebrae.
Hinge joints elbow (between the humerus and the ulna) These joints act as a door hinge does, allowing flexion and extension in just one plane
Pivot joints atlanto-axial joint, proximal radioulnar joint, and distal radioulnar joint One bone rotates about another
Condyloid joints (or ellipsoidal joints) wrist joint (radiocarpal joint) A condyloid joint is where two bones fit together with an odd[citation needed] shape (e.g. an ellipse), and one bone is concave, the other convex; some classifications make a distinction between condyloid and ellipsoid joints;[4][5] these joints allow flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction movements (circumduction).
Saddle joints Carpometacarpal or trapeziometacarpal joint of thumb (between the metacarpal and carpal - trapezium), sternoclavicular joint Saddle joints, which resemble a saddle, permit the same movements as the condyloid joints but allow greater movement
Ball and socket joints

"universal Joint"

shoulder (glenohumeral) and hip joints These allow for all movements except gliding
Compound joints[6][7] / modified hinge joints[citation needed] knee joint condylar joint (condyles of femur join with condyles of tibia) and saddle joint (lower end of femur joins with patella)


The movements possible with synovial joints are:

  • abduction: movement away from the mid-line of the body
  • adduction: movement toward the mid-line of the body
  • extension: straightening limbs at a joint
  • flexion: bending the limbs at a joint
  • rotation: a circular movement around a fixed point

Clinical significance


  1. ^ a b Drake et al. (2009) Gray's Anatomy for Students, 2nd Edition, Skeletal system, p.21
  2. ^ Tortora & Derrickson () Principles of Anatomy & Physiology, 12th Edition, Pub: Wiley & Sons
  3. ^ a b Umich 2010 couse, Module - Introduction to Joints
  4. ^ Rogers, Kara (2010) Bone and Muscle: Structure, Force, and Motion p.157
  5. ^ Sharkey, John (2008) The Concise Book of Neuromuscular Therapy p.33
  6. ^ Moini (2011) Introduction to Pathology for the Physical Therapist Assistant pp.231-2
  7. ^ The Biophysical Foundations Of Human Movement (2005) By Bruce Abernethy pp.23, 331