How to Care for a Swollen Knee (And When to Seek Help)

by The Flexogenix Team | Oct 19, 2020 | Knee Pain | 64 Comments
How to Care for a Swollen Knee (And When to Seek Help)

This blog post was updated for content on October 20. 2020. Existing comments have not been modified or removed.

Knee swelling occurs when excess fluid accumulates on or around the knee joints. Doctors call this an effusion, and some people call it water on the knee. Sometimes, swelling (and the pain that accompanies it) will go away with home treatments. Other times, it may require visiting a doctor for medical treatment.

Symptoms of a Swollen Knee

  • The skin around the kneecap is puffy
  • The knee is stiff and it’s difficult to bend or straighten it
  • It’s painful and bearing weight is difficult or impossible
  • Redness or warmth

Swelling that does not go away, also known as chronic swelling, can lead to joint damage, cartilage degradation, or bone softening.

What Causes a Swollen Knee

There are many causes of swelling in the knee, but often it is due to an injury. Damage to ligaments, especially the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, causes fluid to build up around the knee. Tearing the cartilage, overuse, and breaking bones can also cause fluid buildup.

However, other underlying conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, infection, gout, pseudo-gout, bursitis, cysts, and tumors, can also cause swelling.

Home Treatment for Swollen Knees

It is important to consult with your physician before choosing a treatment plan. If advised by your doctor, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can aid in treating minor cases of knee swelling. Usually, these cases are due to knee osteoarthritis, non-septic knee bursitis, or a minor injury.

The RICE formula can also work. RICE is rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

  • Rest: Rest for a period of 24 hours or longer to give the joint time to recover.
  • Ice: Icing the area for 20 minutes three to four times per day can help decrease swelling and aid in healing. It is important to avoid putting ice directly on the skin.

  • Compression: Wrapping the knee with an elastic bandage can help to limit swelling, but make sure it is not too tight.
  • Elevation: Elevate the knee to help reduce blood flow to the area, which can help to reduce the swelling.

With RICE, swelling often goes down in one to three days.

When to See a Doctor

If the swelling doesn’t go down in one to three days of using the RICE method, it’s time to call a doctor.

Also, call a doctor immediately if there are any of these symptoms:

  • The knee is severely swollen or has a pronounced abnormality
  • The knee cannot fully straighten or flex
  • The knee is severely painful
  • The knee feels like it will give out or cannot support any weight at all
  • The skin near the knee is hot or red
  • A fever
  • Swelling has not gone down after three or more days

If you’re experiencing knee swelling that will not go away or have pain, connecting with a specialist is always a good idea. There’s no need to rush into surgery. At Flexogenix, we specialize in cutting-edge, non-surgical treatment options, and can help you move past achy knees and into your best life—without invasive surgery. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

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