Lipoma arborescens

Lipoma arborescens is a rare condition affecting synovial linings of the joints and bursae, with 'frond like' depositions of fatty tissue. They account for less than 1% of all lipomatous lesions 3.


Patients typically present in the 5th-7th decades but the condition has also been reported in young 5. Usually these lesions are sporadic, however they can be seen in the setting of osteoarthritis, collagen vascular disorders or previous trauma 3.

Clinical presentation

Clinically presentation is with painless joint swelling, frequently with an associated effusion.

The most frequent site of involvement is suprapatellar bursa of knee joint, and the disorder is usually unilateral 1-3. Occasional reports of hip, shoulder, wrist elbow are also reported. Other joint involvement is uncommon. Involvement of tendon sheath is even rarer.


The normal synovium is replaced by hypertrophied villi demonstrating marked deposition of mature lipocytes within them 4-5.


Many cases can be associated with associated pathologies to varying degrees. Described associated pathology in the knee include 9:

Radiographic features


Occasionally plain films are able to detect fatty lucencies within a soft tissue lesion, although usually the large associated effusion dominates the film. Coexistent degenerative changes are frequently present.

Bony erosions are uncommon 4.


If performed, ultrasound will demonstrate a joint effusion with echogenic 'frond like' projections into the effusion.


CT is able to demonstrate a low density intra-articular mass. As joint fluid is volume-averaged with the lesion, it is of higher density than fat, but lower than water. Little if any enhancement is seen 6.


MRI is the modality of choice for diagnosis. The lesion follows the signal intensity of fat on all sequences 4-5.

  • T1: high signal; will saturate on fat suppressed sequences
  • T2: high signal; will saturate on fat suppressed sequences
  • gradiant echo (GE): chemical shift artefact is sometimes seen at the fat-fluid interface 6

Typically, there is frond-like proliferation of fat-containing cells. Where effusions coexist, visualisation of the fronds is improved.

Treatment and prognosis

The condition is benign and is cured by synovectomy. Recurrence is uncommon 5.

History and etymology

Originally described by Hoffa, the macrospic frondlike appearance was felt to resemble a tree in leaf; hence, the Latin term arborescens (meaning “tree-forming” or “treelike”) 7, 8.

Differential diagnosis

General imaging differential considerations include

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