What should you do when your knee is swollen?

Having a strong and healthy limb does not only help a person to perform their daily task better but also makes their life better as they are able to do a lot of things at a time. Having a painful knee even for a few moments can cause great discomfort and emotional distress, let alone a persistent pain that lasts throughout the day. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be learning more about swollen knees and what you should do if you or people around you experience it.

Knee swelling is also referred to as “knee effusion”, some might even refer to it as “water on the knee”. A swollen knee is often a result from trauma such as broken bones or tear in the ligament, overuse injuries causing irritation and other underlying disease or condition like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, gout, infections, cysts or tumours. There are several factors causing a person to be susceptible to swollen knees, this includes the ageing process as a person grows older, people playing sports that involve frequent repetitive movement such as twisting the knee in a basketball game and obesity causing overload stress on the knee joint.

Swollen knee usually causes the limit of the knee function to flex, bend or straighten. Beside the limited movements of the knees itself, a swollen knee often shows signs of inflammation such as swelling, reddish skin around the kneecap and pain sensation causing a person unable to fully utilise the knee or standing as putting weight on the knee lead to such discomfort. Stiffness of the knee joint is common in a swollen knee.

It is important to treat swollen knees. An untreated swollen knee may lead to complications that could be a disability. Complications are loss of muscle function due to the fluid in the knee affecting muscle or prolonged immobility causing muscle to not work properly and formation of fluid-filled sac (Baker cyst) in the back of the knee.

Here comes the question of what you should do if your knee is swollen. When you find yourself in this condition, the first thing to do is to rest the knees and place an ice pack against the knee for 15-20 minutes and this may be repeated throughout the day. Remember to place a piece of cloth or cover the knee from direct contact with the ice pack as this can lead to skin issues. Next is to elevate the affected leg by placing it on a pillow to help the swelling subside. At this point, you may want to take over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller and anti-inflammatory medications. Consider using a compression technique by wrapping the knee with elastic bandage.

When treatments at home fail to reduce the swollen knee and its associated symptoms or if the swollen knee happens right after a traumatic event such as blunt force trauma or sports accidents, please do get medical advice urgently. If the swollen knees are suspected from infections, which is often characterised by red knees and feels warm upon touch compared to the other knee, it should be a great concern to seek prompt medical attention.

Treatments provided by physicians varied to the cause of the swollen knee itself. If the cause is found is infection, physicians will prescribe antibiotics and a person may need to be hospitalised. In cases of arthritis, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs may be given to help treat this condition. Corticosteroids and pain relief medications are usually provided to help reduce swelling and pain. In some cases, surgery may be needed to help eliminate the cause triggering swollen knees such as with osteoarthritis. Physicians may also recommend patients to go for physical therapy and usage of assistive devices to aid with patients’ mobility to walk.