Climbing stairs feels like hiking Mount Everest, and getting out of the car or going for a walk are more difficult each day. This is what having too much fluid in knee feels like, and it is something you should take seriously. In this guide, we will talk about the types, causes, and symptoms of fluid in knee. We’ll also discuss how to diagnose and treat the condition and ways to prevent re-injury.
Fluid in the knee, also known as knee effusion or “water on the knee,” is the accumulation of extra fluid in or around the joint. Fluid buildup in knees is typically not dangerous in itself, but it may be a sign of a more serious medical issue. This is especially dangerous in older people who play sports, as it increases the risk of slips, trips, and falls.
Too much fluid in the kneecap, for example, indicates an inflammation of the bursa in the front of the patella. Fluid in kneecaps is usually caused by pressure from constant kneeling. Fluid buildup behind the knee is a different concern. When too much fluid is pushed into the small sacs of tissue behind the knee, it indicates a Baker’s cyst. In some cases, the sac of fluid behind the knee can tear open and travel into the tissues of the lower leg.
Types of Fluid in Knee
Our knees are complex, and it’s possible to injure the ligaments, tendons, muscles, or bones in the joint. If untreated, fluid in your knee can eventually harm the various structures of the knee. To understand your condition, you should familiarize yourself with the different types of fluid that may be found in the knee:
Serious injury to the knee can cause an excessive amount of blood to flood into the joint. This condition is known as hemarthrosis and requires urgent medical care.
Certain conditions may cause the body to produce too much joint fluid, which leads to knee effusion.
Other Body Fluids
When parts of the body are inflamed or injured, the natural reaction is for that area to swell with fluids that fight bacteria and promote healing.
What Causes Fluid in the Knee?
Several issues may cause fluid in knee joints. Some may be infectious. Determining what causes fluid in your knee will inform your treatment plan. Listed below are potential causes of fluid in knees.
Injury or trauma: This happens when the knee joint receives a direct blow from an outside force. A trauma or injury to the knee’s tendons, bones, meniscus, bursae, ligaments, or articular cartilage can cause inflammation.
Knee osteoarthritis: This common type of arthritis causes excessive knee fluid. Knee osteoarthritis is the degeneration of the cartilage around the knee joint due to aging and repetitive stress.
Rheumatoid arthritis: This autoimmune disease causes the immune system to attack the body’s own cells and damage the delicate lining of the joints.
Infection: Gonorrhea, tuberculosis, brucellosis, and lyme disease may all affect the knee.
Gout: When levels of uric acid get too high, the acid will form into microscopic crystals and build up in the joints.
Bursitis: An inflamed knee bursa—a tiny, fluid-filled sac that separates knee bones from nearby tendons and muscles—can fill with excess fluid.
Tumor: Both benign and cancerous masses sometimes infiltrate the knee.
Fluid in Knee Symptoms
Sometimes, fluid in knee causes no pain. The symptoms of fluid in knee may include:
Redness and swelling
Stiffness or tightness
Tenderness around the knee
Difficulty performing some movements
Locking or clicking of the knee
Chills or fever
Fluid in Knee Diagnosis
If you are experiencing any or all of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Depending on the findings, your primary care provider may refer you to a specialist for further analysis.
Medical History and Physical Examination
Your doctor will ask about your recent activities and past injuries, as well as about your symptoms, how soon swelling appeared, and the mechanism and date of injury. Your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination to accurately diagnose your injury.
After removing fluid from knees, arthrocentesis is used to study bacteria, measure cell count, and check for crystals, such as calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals. This type of test helps evaluate fluid retention in knee, identify intra-articular fracture, determine the presence of gout, and diagnose arthritis and joint-related conditions.
An X-ray can yield additional clues, which help confirm the signs of fluid in knees. Apart from revealing broken and dislocated bones, an X-ray can detect some cases of arthritis.
An MRI scan is recommended for soft-tissue abnormalities, including those of the ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. It is an important diagnostic tool to see if there is an overproduction of fluid in the knee joint.
Treatment for Fluid in the Knee
The next steps vary depending on the underlying issue causing excess fluid in knees. After diagnosing your condition, your doctor will help you decide on a treatment plan and teach you how to reduce fluid in knees, relieve pain, and improve function. Here are common treatment options:
The RICE method should be used immediately after the injury.
Rest your knee for 24 hours or longer to give the joint time to recover and repair.
Ice the knee for 20 minutes at least 3 times per day. Apply an ice pack to alleviate pain and promote healing.
Elevate your leg on a stool or on a pillow to lessen blood flow to the area, reducing inflammation in the knee joint.
The RICE formula may be used in combination with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which can make you more comfortable.
Injecting steroids directly into your knee joint can relieve pain if over-the-counter medications are not effective.
Joint aspiration uses a needle and syringe for taking fluid out of knee. The doctor then analyzes the contents of the fluid to rule out or verify diagnoses. For example, bacteria in the fluid means infection, while uric acid crystals in the fluid indicates gout.
A variety of braces are available to protect and support your weakened knee, especially during physical activities like walking or exercising. Finding the right type of brace for your injury and lifestyle will keep you moving at full speed.
Universal Knee Brace
Wraparound knee braces provide a great blend of support, comfort, and practical pain relief. ( See Product )
A versatile universal knee brace will protect the knee while relieving joint pain. Use it after an injury or as a preventive measure. Look for one that features an open-patella design to prevent the brace from slipping—perfect for all-day use.
Hinged Knee Brace
A fractured knee brace is crucial to supporting your injured joint and preventing further damage. ( See Product )
Hinged knee braces stabilize the knee and reduce the risk of re-injury. They are made of breathable material and are usually customizable, so you can adjust the fit to your specifications.
Bamboo Knee Support
Compression sleeves reduce swelling and improve circulation to encourage healing in the joint. ( See Product )
A bamboo knee support protects sore knees and reduces inflammation caused by excess fluid in knee by increasing circulation. This is the perfect knee support for those suffering from arthritis, sprains, and tendonitis.
Compression sleeves reduce swelling and increase circulation to promote healing and pain relief. ( See Product )
Compression sleeves promote healing, prevent fatigue, and improve muscle performance. Most are made of spandex and nylon, which wicks away moisture to keep you comfortable during daily activities and exercise.
Physical therapy can help reduce fluid in knee joints, improve range of motion, and regain knee strength. A good PT program will include gentle strength and balance exercises, which can be performed at home. Discuss any new exercise regimen with your doctor or physical therapist.
Straight Leg Lifts
Step 1: Lie on the floor with your left leg bent and your right leg straight.
Step 2: Engage your buttock and stomach muscles, then tighten your right leg so your knee goes toward the floor.
Step 3: Slowly lift your leg until your thighs meet.
Step 4: Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly drop to the starting position.
Step 5: Perform 10 repetitions per leg.
Step 1: Stand with your back and head against a wall.
Step 2: Position your feet about 18 inches from the wall.
Step 3: With your knees hip-width apart, slowly slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Place a ball between your thighs and squeeze it.
Step 4: Hold the position for 10 seconds, then return to standing.
Step 5: Repeat several times per day.
Single Leg Airplane
Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your right knee slightly bent.
Step 2: Slowly raise your left leg backward and extend your arms at your sides.
Step 3: Hold the position for up to 5 seconds, then slowly lower your leg.
Step 4: Repeat 5 times per leg.
Step 1: Stand on a mat with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides.
Step 2: Slowly shift your weight to your right foot as you bend your left knee and lift your left heel toward your right calf.
Step 3: Put your hands in front of your chest in a prayer position.
Step 4: Extend your arms overhead, keeping your palms pressed together. Hold the position for 5 seconds. To challenge yourself, hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Step 5: Slowly lower your foot to the mat, then repeat for the opposite leg.
Sideways Leg Lift
Step 1: Holding on to the back of a chair or the edge of a table, slowly lift one leg to the side as far as you are comfortable. Keep your hips and back straight.
Step 2: Slowly lower your leg, then switch sides.
Step 3: Perform 8 to 15 repetitions with each leg.
Living with chronic pain can take a toll on your body. Mild to moderate fluid retention in knee joints can usually be treated at home. If your symptoms are disabling and home remedies for fluid in knees haven’t worked, surgical intervention may be the best option. The procedure involves replacing the knee joint with a prosthetic, which typically lasts at least fifteen years. Timing is key when it comes to joint replacement. Ask your doctor if, and when, the surgery is right for you.
Recovery time may take several weeks to months depending on the root cause of fluid in knee. Follow your doctor’s instructions regarding movement and rest to avoid complications.
Do not let this condition stop you from doing the things you enjoy. After swelling and pain have subsided, performing balance and strength exercises and wearing the right type of brace will ensure your knee has adequate support to prevent future injury. By keeping your knees healthy, you can lead an active lifestyle as you enjoy your golden years.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.