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Swollen knee

Dr. Nadheer K M (AIIMS)MBBS

December 05, 2020

April 21, 2021

Swollen knee
Swollen knee

Swelling is a sign that there is an inflammation in the affected area, making it appear puffier and larger.

Inflammation is often the body’s response to trauma, including repetitive stress injuries such as bursitis.

Swelling in the knees is a common phenomenon, especially in middle-aged and older people. Sportspeople, dancers and people who are prone to falling or bumping their knees may also face this problem often. 

Sometimes, applying RICE therapy—rest, ice, compression and elevation—to the affected knee is enough. In other cases, like swollen knees because of arthritis or because of an anterior cruciate ligament or ACL injury, patients may need greater medical attention and some tests.

Read on to know about the symptoms, types, causes, diagnosis and treatment of a swollen knee as well as when to see a doctor for a swollen knee and what to expect during this doctor's visit.

Types of swollen knee

There are different types of inflammation that can occur in the knee joint. These can be classified as follows:

  • Effusion: Swelling inside the joint
  • Edema: Swelling in tissues around the joint
  • Hemarthrosis: Swelling and a buildup of blood within the joint

Acute swelling may result from an injury and disappear within a day. Chronic swelling can last much longer and signal an underlying medical condition. Keep reading to find out more about why the knee swells, its symptoms, diagnosis and treatments.

Symptoms of swollen knee

Following are characteristic symptoms of the condition:

  • Pain: The knee pain could range from mild to severe 
  • Stiffness: Problem in bending or straightening leg
  • Partial or complete inability to move the joint 
  • Redness
  • Heat: The skin feels warm to touch

Causes of swollen knees

The various problems that could cause swelling in the knees are as follows:

Risk factors for swelling in knee

Even though swollen knees are a condition that can happen to anyone, there are certain factors that make you more prone to it. These include:

  • Age: As a person ages, the chances of swelling in the knee joint increases
  • Obesity: Obesity increases your risk of osteoarthritis, one of the more frequent causes of knee swelling. Apart from this, the excess weight puts added stress on the knee joint which could contribute to its degeneration, which could subsequently result in swelling of the knees
  • Sports injuries: Injuries like twisting of the knee could result in swollen knees

Diagnosis of swollen knee

A proper diagnosis is necessary to rule out the actual cause of swollen knees and figure out a proper treatment plan. The diagnosis can take place in the following ways:

  • X-ray: An X-ray can be used to determine if the patient has arthritis. It can also rule out broken/fractured or dislocated bones. 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI: An MRI scan is used to detect tendon, ligament and soft tissue injuries that aren't visible on X-rays.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound may also be performed to check for disorders affecting the tendons or ligaments.
  • Joint fluid aspiration: The practitioner you are consulting may suggest aspirating or removing a small amount of the synovial fluid (that prevents friction in the knee joint) for analysis (synovial fluid analysis), to check for the presence of bacteria or blood.

Treatment of swollen knee

Depending upon the cause and severity of the swollen knee, treatment may include:

  •  Over-the-counter pain-relief medication to ease the discomfort 
  •  If pain killers do not work, the doctor is likely to prescribe oral corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation. He/she may also recommend steroid injections 
  • A surgical procedure called arthroscopy may be done. In this, a lighted tube is inserted into the knee joint through a small incision. This helps the surgeon to see the joint and use pencil-shaped tools to remove the loose tissue in the knee joint and repair the damage.
  • Knee replacement surgery is usually seen as the last resort. When the pain becomes unbearable and all other treatment options have been explored, the doctor may recommend this procedure.

RICE therapy for swollen knee

In case of minor injuries and discomfort, there are certain ways you can do to take care of your swollen knee. These are:

  • Rest: Give the knee time to rest. Avoid putting weight on it and any weight-bearing activities like standing, running, lifting things for at least 24 hours
  • Ice: Wrap ice in a towel and apply it on the knee to control the pain 
  • Massage: Gently massage the knee, either yourself or with the help of a professional. Massage provides compression which may help to drain the fluid and reduce the swelling
  • Elevation: Elevate your knee (place your leg comfortably on pillows or a stool) while you sit. This decreases blood flow to the affected knee, thereby reducing inflammation


  1. Gupte, C., & St Mart, J. P. (2013). The acute swollen knee: diagnosis and management Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 106(7), 259–268.
  2. Sari, Z., Aydoğdu, O., Demirbüken, İ., Yurdalan, S. U., & Polat, M. G. (2019) . A Better Way to Decrease Knee Swelling in Patients with Knee Osteoarthritis: A Single-Blind Randomised Controlled Trial Pain research & management, 2019, 8514808.
  3. Lavender JP. Swollen Painless Knee Swollen Painless Knee JAMA. :180–182

Doctors for Swollen knee

Dr. Tushar Verma Dr. Tushar Verma Orthopedics
5 Years of Experience
Dr. Urmish Donga Dr. Urmish Donga Orthopedics
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Dr. Sunil Kumar Yadav Dr. Sunil Kumar Yadav Orthopedics
3 Years of Experience
Dr. Deep Chakraborty Dr. Deep Chakraborty Orthopedics
10 Years of Experience
Consult a Doctor

Medicines for Swollen knee

Medicines listed below are available for Swollen knee. Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.

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