Whether they come along quickly or gradually, after an injury or without warning, swollen knees are very common. Often troublesome, a swollen knee might cause you stiffness and pain, making it difficult to go about your everyday life. If you find yourself noticing a swelling in your knees, don’t worry--there are plenty of swollen knee treatments that you can try at home to reduce symptoms quickly. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about swollen knees--what they are, what causes them, and how to prevent them.
A swollen knee is caused when fluid accumulates in or around the knee cap. The swollen knee cap condition can also be known as “water on the knee” or knee joint effusion. If your knee feels swollen, it usually means that there’s a problem inside the joint, either from an injury or chronic condition. Swollen knees can occur both rapidly or gradually, and can range from mild to severe.
Are Swollen Knees Common?
A swollen knee cap is a very common condition, and can affect anyone, young and old. A swollen knee can come about very quickly due to an injury, or, it can occur gradually over time as the result of a chronic condition. As we age, the types of chronic conditions that might cause swelling in the knees become more common, causing the possibility of swollen knees to increase.
Understanding Swelling in the Knee
Why is my knee swollen? To understand why fluid accumulates in the knee joint, it’s important to understand that surrounding the whole joint is a sac filled with synovial fluid, called a joint capsule. The fluid works to keep the joint lubricated so that it can move smoothly, and the joint capsule keeps the fluid contained where it’s supposed to be within the knee joint.
A knee will become swollen when excess fluid builds up in the joint capsule. The two most common swollen knee causes are from bleeding in the joint or an accumulation of synovial fluid.
Swollen Knee Causes
If you notice that your knee is swelling up but aren’t sure why, there are a few swollen knee causes that may be the issue. Whether it’s an injury to the knee, chronic condition, or infection, learn more about the most common factors below.
Injuries to the Knee
If you’re noticing a swollen knee after a fall or other injury, it’s likely that you’re experiencing hemarthrosis, or the accumulation of blood in the knee. This will usually cause swelling in the knee, tightness and soreness, as well as bruising.
One of the most likely causes of a swollen knee from an injury is a ligament tear. The most commonly torn ligament in the knee is the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or ACL. With an ACL tear, the knee will start swelling and become painful immediately.
A meniscus tear refers to a sprain or tear in the outer cartilage, which is the rubbery disk that cushions the knee. With this type of injury, the pain is less intense than a ligament tear, and the knee will begin to swell more slowly.
One of the most common types of bone fractures in the knee is the patellar fracture. A bone fracture will be very painful and will require immediate medical attention.
If you have arthritis, it’s possible that the cause of your swollen knee might be your arthritis. Because arthritis wears down the cartilage and bones in the body, it causes the body to produce excess fluid in the knees. Arthritic knee swelling tends to be gradual.
Common infections in the knee can occur after surgery or from a wound, and in less-common cases, an infection elsewhere in the body can spread to the knees. Because it’s difficult for the body to fight an infection in a joint, surgery might be required for full recovery.
Gout refers to the buildup of sharp crystals that can form in the joints as the result of a buildup of uric acid during the digestive process. When these types of crystals build up in the knees, they can cause swelling and pain.
To reduce friction, there are small sacs that are filled with fluid, called bursa, that sit between bones and soft tissue. When there is excessive friction on the bursa, they tend to become inflamed. This condition is known as bursitis, and it causes swelling at the top of the kneecap.
Swollen Knee Symptoms
Feeling your joint start to swell up, but not sure what to expect from a swollen knee? Here are a few common symptoms that you are likely to experience.
Puffiness: Because swollen knees are caused by an excess buildup of fluid, it is primarily characterized by the knee becoming visibly larger and puffy.
Stiffness: Your knee might also be swollen and stiff, which means that the extra fluid is keeping it from bending or straightening.
Pain: Depending on the cause, you might also experience swollen knee pain, which can affect your ability to bear weight on the leg. However, other causes might result in a swollen knee without pain.
Treatment for Swollen Knees
There are many types of swollen knee treatment options, with both short- and long-term treatments available. For tips on how to treat a swollen knee and what to do for a swollen knee, we’ve listed a few options below.
The easiest swollen knee remedy can be done right at home, by using the R.I.C.E. method--rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The most important thing you can do is take a break from any activity that’s causing pain in your swollen knee.
Applying ice to the area will reduce pain and swelling. It’s best to apply an ice pack for ten to twenty minutes, three or more times per day. This type of treatment is ideally used right after an injury is sustained, whereas a heat pad is a better bet for later on.
Swollen Knee Support
While suffering from a swollen knee, providing your leg and knee with the right amount of compression and support is vital to your comfort and recovery. A great way to take some of the pressure of each step off your painful knee is to use a knee brace or sleeve.
A knee brace will provide additional lateral stability for your leg if your knees are feeling painful or weak. In addition, they are usually made out of compression material that supports the knee and reduces swelling. This Hinged Knee Brace is an effective option.
If you’re looking for compression, but don’t require as much support, a knee sleeve might be the right choice for you. A knee sleeve will provide gentle compression, which increases circulation, reduces swelling, and relieves pain. This Bamboo Knee Sleeve is an option that we recommend.
Simple, sleek, and lightweight, patella straps can make quick work of joint conditions. ( See Product on Amazon )
Looking for support for your swollen knees, but need something less restrictive than a knee sleeve or brace? A knee strap might be the right option for you. These straps fit directly below the knee, allowing for full range of motion, while they provide compression and support. This patella strap is a good option.
Swollen Knee Exercises
Often, a swollen knee will cause the area to feel stiff and sore. While recovering from a swollen knee, try massaging the area to encourage blood flow, as well as a few simple exercises to regain your flexibility.
In a doorway, lie on your back with your uninjured leg through the open door. Straighten your knee on the other leg so that it slides up the wall. Do not bend either knee, and hold this stretch for at least one minute.
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and both knees bent. Bring your swollen knee to your chest, while keeping the other foot flat on the floor and your lower back pressed to the floor. Hold this stretch for fifteen to twenty seconds.
To prevent swollen knees from recurring, it’s important to maintain flexibility in your legs by exercising and stretching. If you feel that your knees are prone to injury, wear a knee brace, knee sleeve, or patellar strap when walking or running. If you experience a knee injury, it’s important to apply ice to the area right away to reduce swelling immediately.
Recovering from Swollen Knees
If you’re applying the R.I.C.E. method of home remedy for swollen knees, your recovery shouldn’t be a lengthy process. Depending on the severity of your swollen knee pain, you should see recovery in about one to three days.
If the swelling doesn’t go down within a few days or if it begins to get worse, you should seek advice from a medical professional. Chronically swollen knees may have a range of causes, making a doctor’s diagnosis crucial.
Dealing with Swollen Knee Pain
Whether they are caused by an injury or by a chronic condition, swollen knees are very common. Fortunately, with the right treatment, they won’t keep you off your feet forever. If you find yourself suffering from the pain, stiffness, and other symptoms associated with swollen knees, utilize the home remedies in this Injury Guide and you should be walking again pain-free in no time.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager at ViveHealth.com. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle. Through her writing she works to share valuable information aimed at overcoming obstacles and improving the quality of life for others.
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