Swollen Knees - Why They are Swollen & What to DO? | Pain Care

Swollen Knees – Causes, Treatment & Home Remedies

Swollen Knees are one of the most commonly occurring problems that tend to impact both, young and elderly individuals.

This painful ailment can occur due to several causes, but mainly the swelling occurs due to an excessive build-up of fluids within or surrounding the knee joint.

Experts usually term this condition as knee joint effusion, more commonly known as having “water on the knee”.

In this article, we will attempt to understand all the complexities that lead to the development of swollen knees, all its various causes, the different types of swelling that tend to occur and the most suitable treatment to not only eliminate the swelling but also adopt an effective preventive regime

Why & How Does Knee Swelling Occur?

Knee swelling usually occurs gradually over the period of time as water continues to accumulate within or around the knee joints, but in certain cases, it can also occur suddenly.

A case of the swollen knee can be either mild or severe, along with varying levels of comfort while attempting to move your leg, run, walk and perform other activities.

Experts believe that in most cases, knee swelling occurs as an indication of a severe underlying ailment residing somewhere within the knee joint, and there can be several reasons behind that as well.

Most commonly, the swelling tends to occur after the individual has suffered a severe injury, but in certain cases, it can also occur for no clear reason whatsoever, which will end up pointing towards an underlying ailment within the knee.

In certain cases, the knee swelling tends to be widespread and largely visible, causing severe disturbances in simple movements, but even low levels of knee swelling that aren’t quite noticeable can cause severe movement disturbances. 

what causes knee swelling?

Research reveals that there are several causes of swollen knees, of which most common are bursitis, severe injuries, and osteoarthritis, while the less prevalent causes include, reactive arthritis, and Baker’s cysts.

You may experience a mild accumulation of water around the knees, or perhaps, your case of knee swelling is excruciatingly painful.

In order to determine the best course of treatment to eliminate this problem, you need to identify the underlying cause so the symptoms are treated effectively.

Keep in mind that if you swollen knee issue becomes a long-standing ailment or a chronic disturbance, it is highly likely to cause severe cartilage degradation and joint tissue damage along with softening up the bones. Therefore, understanding all the various causes is of utmost essentiality.

Here are some of the most prevalent causes of swollen knees:

Severe Knee Injuries

When our knees have suffered a trauma from an accident or injury, it can cause severe pain and swelling within the bursae, tendons, bones, ligaments, articular cartilage, or meniscus of our knee.

When the injury is extremely severe, it causes a sudden thrust of blood to rust into the knee joint, which not only causes the burning sensation and swelling but also leads to stiffness and bruising.

Experts refer to this condition as haemarthrosis, and it requires immediate medical attention if the pain is extremely severe and the leg simply cannot be able to balance the weight.

Knee Osteoarthritis

When our knee joints suffer from degeneration of the cartilage, it can lead to a severe accumulation of joint fluids, which causes the knee to swell.

When the swollen knee occurs due to osteoarthritis, it can extremely painful. 

Septic and Non-Septic Bursitis

There are countless thin and tiny sacs that are loaded with fluid, known as bursa, throughout our body, and their function is to shield our joints.

When a knee bursa becomes inflamed, it builds up an excess of fluids, which causes swollen knees.

The most prevalently occurring kinds of knee bursitis are pes anserine bursitis and prepatellar bursitis.

The knees may feel watery or “squishy” but this condition isn’t usually painful.

In the certain cases, the bursa can even become infected by a microorganism, which leads to severe inflammation, filling up the bursa with pus.

It causes the knee to become excessively hot and turn red, patients are advised to seek immediate medical attention. 


A gout attack involves an agonizingly painful build-up of microscopic uric acid crystals within the knee joint, which causes rapid swelling and horrible pain, along with warmth and redness. 


The pseudogout is much like the symptoms of gout, except that it refers to the accumulation of calcium pyrophosphate crystals within the joints.

This causes rapidly occurring swelling and pain, which mostly affects the joints within the knee. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is basically an autoimmune disorder that impacts the very thin and sensitive lining of our joints, leading to severely swollen knees, along with redness, pain, and stiffness.

Its symptoms tend to occur on both parts of the body, so if you’re feeling the swelling in your left knee, your right knee is highly likely to become affected as well.

Baker's Cyst

A Baker’s cyst is identified by swelling that occurs at the back of the knee, accompanied by the symptoms of pain and stiffness.

Mostly, experts and doctors recommend patients to treat this condition with the R.I.C.E formula (explained below in more detail) along with regularly consulting a doctor and therapist.

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

When a child develops swollen joint that ache excruciatingly, causing him/her to limp or walk awkwardly, it can be considered a sign of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Most children who develop this ailment also tend to develop fevers or rashes. It is ideal to get the child immediate medical attention if the symptoms don’t disappear within a week. 

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

The Osgood-Schlatter disease is most prevalent amongst teenagers and those in their twenty’s, and it is recognized by an inflammation within the patellar tendon of the knee.

It requires a quick diagnosis, but the treatment is largely conducted at home because this ailment tends to disappear as the individual grows

Septic Arthritis

Septic arthritis occurs when microorganisms or harmful bacteria manage to break into the thin and sensitive lining around the knee joint, causing severe infections and filling up the joint with pus.

Its symptoms include fever, rapidly occurring knee swelling and severe knee ache. Patients are advised to obtain immediate medical attention if the symptoms persist. 

Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis can cause several kinds of bacterial infections, such as gastrointestinal infections or chlamydia, to cause an inflammatory immune response within the body, which leads to severe swelling and pain within the joints

Home Remedies to Treat Swollen Knees

While most types of swollen knee conditions require a constant visit to the physical therapist, orthopaedist, or your regular doctor, there are certain cases that can be treated at home.

Experts widely recommended an enhanced and effective home care to speed up the recovery process, and ensure the swelling doesn’t return anytime soon.

We’ve picked some of the most effective home remedies that can help keep your knee swelling at bay, here, take a look:

Steer Clear of Heat

If you have suffered from a severe injury, which has resulted in a swollen knee, it is essential that you avoid all kinds of heat exposure for at least the first two days.

It is essential that you avoid exposing your knee to all kinds of heat, including hot showers, hot tubs, or even hot packs.

A Compression Bandage

You can wrap up your knee with an elastic bandage to apply compression, and compression bandages are usually available at all local pharmacies.

They aid in reducing the swelling, particularly if you pick out an elastic bandage that comes with a fastener attached to the bandage, minimizing the need for clips.

However, make sure you don’t wrap up your knees too tightly. If your knees are tingling, the pain has increased, you feel numbness or the color is oddly changing, it is a sign that your compression bandage needs to be loosened up.

Gentle Massages

In certain cases, massaging the knee with extremely gentle strokes and essential oils can aid in enhancing the blood flow received by the knees.

However, if it causes the pain to increase rather than subside, it is advisable to avoid massaging that area. 

Pain Killers & Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

If the pain is mild, you can use over-the-counter painkillers to eliminate the pain caused by swollen knees.

You can also pick out certain anti-inflammatory medicines that are strictly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and acetaminophen.​

However, be sure to follow all the dosage instructions mentioned on the label.

Topical painkillers and creams can also help eliminate the swelling and pain, and you can even pick out a patch that is infused with lidocaine, an analgesic that provides relief and eliminates pain. 

The R.I.C.E. Formula

In cases of swollen knees that require essential care at home, doctors recommend patients to adopt the R.I.C.E formula, which basically breaks down into four essential practices: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

The R.I.C.E formula is accompanied with medications, which mainly include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen and ibuprofen, along with COX-2 inhibitors.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the R.I.C.E formula:

Rest: The swollen knee requires complete rest for at least 48 hours in order to provide the joint sufficient time to recover and heal.​

This means that you mustn’t engage in any kind of sports and other physical activities, even running or walk much.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should become entirely immobile.

Experts recommend patients with swollen knees to indulge in gentle knee flexing and straightening exercises several times during the day to improve their range of motion.

Ice: You can reduce the swelling and encourage greater healing by applying a cold compress to your knee, for nearly 20 minutes at least thrice a day.

Be sure not to apply the ice directly to the swollen skin.

Compression: Using a compression or Ace elastic bandage to wrap up the affected knee joint will aid in reducing and eliminating the swelling.

Elevation: While sitting, it is advisable to lift up your leg at an elevated position, using a stool or a pillow, in order to reduce the blood flow received by your knee joints, which will thereby cut down the inflammation.

Doctors recommend the R.I.C.E formula as it can help eliminate a case of swollen knees within no more than two or three days.

However, if your swelling doesn’t eliminate after using R.I.C.E and if the symptoms begin to worsen instead, get an appointment with your doctor immediately.

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Doctors widely recommended patients with swollen knees to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet as it can aid in reducing the swelling.

Avoid inflammation-triggering foods that can actually put you at a greater risk for suffering from swollen knees, amongst countless other ailments.

The trick is to eliminate all the kinds of sugary treats, processed foods, packaged items, and fried recipes from your daily diet, and substitute them with whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

Be sure to add up lots of omega-3 fatty acids to your daily diet for they pack up potently powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in reducing the swelling.

You can obtain this omega-3s from flaxseeds, salmon, and tuna

Preventive Measures for Swollen Knees

Now, it’s time to take a look at all the preventive measures that can help you get rid of this agonizing painful ailment once and for all.

Here, take a look:

Wearing Knee Pads

If you engage in housework, landscaping, gardening or other jobs that require you to sit on your knees for long hours, be sure to invest in cushioned knee pads to effectively protect your knees. 

Take Micro Breaks

If you sit for the most part of the day, be sure to take lots of micro-breaks throughout the day, which shouldn’t last longer than 20 seconds each.

During these breaks, you need to stand up and stretch your legs so you can avoid the pain from returning.

Avoid High-Impact Physical Activity

It is essential to refrain from engaging in all kinds of high-impact sports and exercises, mainly those that require you to indulge in a lot of running and jumping, as it can cause severe damage to your knees.

Until your knees have been entirely healed, avoid engaging in football, running, skiing, baseball, basketball and even snowboarding.

How Long Does Swelling Last after Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Healing injury is a subjective matter, it heals at a different pace for different individuals. If required, patient might be allowed to use walker or crutches after few days of surgery.

After surgery and couple days of rest, if pain reduced significantly then your doctor might allow you to walk without using crutches or walker.

It almost takes 6 weeks after an arthroscopic surgery to regain the normal joint fluid. So, it is difficult to understand the real benefits of surgery for almost 5 to 6 weeks.

Being said that, recovery time can vary with great extent from patient to patient. Some patients recovery fast and rejoin their activities in 2 to 3 weeks. But most of the patients require 6 weeks.

Featured Image Via: Flickr (User - mcmrbt)

Dr. Sachin

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