Having a swollen knee is so frequent it should be common knowledge to know how to get fluid out of the knee naturally.
You can safely reduce the excess fluid in the knee with some home treatments. These include the RICE method, pain relievers, and more.
But, keep in mind that while these will reduce the knee swelling, they won’t solve the root cause. You have to find the cause and treat it so the swelling doesn’t come back.
If you have knee effusion, the rule of thumb is: check if there’s a severe injury or any health condition present.
If so, consult with a doctor first. If not, follow these tips.
I’ll mention some common injuries and health issues where knee swelling is the main symptom, so you know what to expect and what to do.
How to care for a swollen knee at home?
First, protect the knee joint. This will prevent the pain and swelling from worsening. You can do this for 2-3 weeks, but keep in mind:
- If the swelling came with a knee injury, you might need a knee sleeve or brace to avoid making it worse.
- Avoid spending too much time standing up – gravity alone can increase the swelling.
- But don’t spend all day in bed either – studies suggest it can prevent you from getting better.(1)
It’s suggested to let the pain and swelling levels guide you on how much you can move. If the swelling increases, rest a bit. If you’re feeling fine, try walking or doing some of the knee exercises below.
This balance between movement and rest can help you get back on track faster. Plus, it helps prevent you from losing your range of motion, which can be hard to regain.
Strengthen your knees
Particularly the quadriceps muscle.
This is the big muscle on top of your thigh that connects the knee to your hip. Its primary job is to help you straighten your knee. Working this muscle in certain positions can help you drain the effusion.
Here’s one of the most common physical therapy exercises to drain the excess fluid of the knee:
- Lying down, extend the swollen knee with a pillow or cushion under the joint.
- Push the pillow down with the backside of your knee joint, which will activate the quadriceps.
- Repeat 10-15 times, holding it for a few seconds.
If you’re working with a physical therapist or a doctor, ask for individualized recommendations.
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation:
- Rest the knee joint, avoid using it excessively.
- Put an ice pack or a cold compress on the knee joint so the low temperature “squeezes” the joint fluid out.
- Apply compression on the joint, usually with an elastic band or a knee sleeve.
- Elevate the joint as much as possible so gravity can help you reduce the swelling as well.
Some people have less pain and swelling afterward, making this method very popular. Athletes even do this after their games.
But, some studies suggest that ice could delay the tissue repair process.
So, it would be best to use the “ice” part of the protocol if the joint pain prevents you from doing your daily activities. Use it(2):
- 2-3 times per day tops.
- For 10 minutes each time.
That way, you’ll have less pain and the cells that repair the tissue will be able to do their job.
Take over-the-counter medications
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are very accessible. They also help you manage pain and reduce inflammation.
For those reasons, OTCs have become a staple to help reduce a swollen knee.
But, research suggests they might also impair healing.
Like ice, it’s a good idea to take anti-inflammatory medications only if the pain prevents you from doing your daily activities.(1)
What’s the best medicine for knee pain, you ask?
According to this 2020 study, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can provide the same results. Though, some people prefer acetaminophen because it’s easier on the stomach.
If you have some previous health conditions, please consult with your doctor before taking any medication.
What causes an excess of joint fluid on the knee?
Falling on your knees
Most falls are harmless, the only damage is usually to our egos.
The swelling will usually go away after a few days. Use the steps above to help you get rid of the fluid quickly.
Please consult with your doctor if you have any other symptoms, including:
- Severe pain
- Limping for 3 or more days
Excess or lack of movement
These can also increase the water on your knees:
- Changes in your workout.
- Walking or standing more than you’re used to.
- A sudden bout of intense physical activity – like moving to a new place.
If this is the case, follow the steps above to reduce the fluid within a few days.
Knee osteoarthritis (OA)
Knee OA is a kind of degenerative disease. It happens when the knee joint progressively losses its cartilage due to wear and tear. It’s also very common in elderly people.(3)
People with knee OA may have knee swelling that’s harder to treat as the degeneration worsens. To prevent this, it’s best to go to physical therapy. Severe cases usually need a knee replacement.
Meniscus or ACL tear
These are very common in sports with sudden changes of direction, like football or tennis.
You may also need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in both cases. This is so your doctors and therapists see the severity of the tear. The info will then determine your treatment options.
This is a sac filled with synovial fluid that usually appears behind the knee joint. It can be an early sign of knee OA.(6)
The leg pain tends to worsen with physical activities or just walking for long periods.
Some cysts don’t need treatment unless they’re painful. If so, the treatment can range from physical therapy to aspiration of the cyst.
This happens when uric acid crystals build up in the tissues, usually the joints.
The risk of developing gout increases with:
- High BMI
- Frequent alcohol consumption
- Genetic predisposition.
Also, males are 2-6 times more likely to suffer from this than females.(7)
The treatment focuses on reducing serum urate levels. This should prevent flare-ups of pain and swelling.
This is an autoimmune disorder. Here, the fluid accumulates in the joints – typically of the hands, wrists, and knees. It’s 2-3 times more common in women than men.(8)
It’s generally treated with medication to prevent or manage flare-ups. Physical therapy is also done to maintain or improve the quality of life.
Cigarette smoking is the strongest environmental risk factor associated with rheumatoid arthritis. – Chauhan et al, 2020
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
This is a medical emergency. Here, a blood clot forms within the deep veins of the leg. If left untreated, it can be fatal.
If you have any of these symptoms, please go to your doctor right away as you might have DVT(9):
- Throbbing or cramping leg pain.
- Visibly swollen veins that are hard or sore when you touch them.
- The back of the knee is red/darkened and warm to the touch.
Will the knee swelling go away by itself?
Probably. Pinpoint the root cause first to treat it so the knee fluid goes away. If not, the odds are the knee effusion will keep coming back.
How long until you get rid of the excess fluid in the knee?
This will depend on the cause of the knee effusion. It can take from a few days to weeks or months.
Talk to your physical therapist or doctor to have a more precise outlook regarding your particular situation.
How to prevent knee effusions?
You can keep healthy knee joints by doing 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and strength training twice a week.(10)
Also, try to keep your BMI below 25. Some studies show that the higher the BMI, the more risk of having excess knee fluid.(11)
If you have arthritis or any other medical condition, follow the indications of your doctors before starting any physical activity regime.
When to go to a doctor for water on the knee?
Pay a visit to your doctor if you have too much pain, or if the knee swelling doesn’t decrease or gets worse in the following 3 days. You might need a joint aspiration.
Also, if the knee joint feels like giving out, or if you can’t bear weight on the injured knee.
Please go to the ER if you have any signs of DVT.
Conclusion: How to drain fluid from the knee at home?
Having an excess of knee fluid can be bothersome and even scary, but most of the time it’s harmless.
If you’re a person without any previous health condition or injury, the steps above will help you get rid of the excess water on the knee in no time.
But, if you have any other symptoms like severe pain, limping, or if the fluid appeared after an injury, consult with your doctor. You might need extra help to get rid of the fluid.
- Dubois, Blaise, et al. “Soft-tissue injuries simply need PEACE and LOVE.” British journal of sports medicine vol. 54,2 (2020): 72-73. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2019-101253
- Scialoia, Domenic et al. (2020). The R.I.C.E Protocol is a MYTH: A Review and Recommendations. The Sport Journal. Retrieved on May 17, 2021 from: https://thesportjournal.org/article/the-r-i-c-e-protocol-is-a-myth-a-review-and-recommendations/
- Hsu, Hunter, et al. “Knee Osteoarthritis.” [Updated 2020 Jun 29]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507884/
- Raj, Marc, et al. “Knee Meniscal Tears.” [Updated 2020 Jul 19]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431067/
- Evans, Jennifer, et al. “Anterior Cruciate Ligament Knee Injuries.” [Updated 2021 Feb 19]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499848/
- Leib, Ari, et al. “Baker’s Cyst.” [Updated 2020 Jul 17]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430774/
- Fenando, Ardy, et al. “Gout.” [Updated 2020 Dec 23]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546606/
- Chauhan, Krati, et al. “Rheumatoid Arthritis.” [Updated 2020 Nov 5]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441999/
- DVT (Deep vein thrombosis) [Updated 2019 October 23]. NHS. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis-dvt/
- “How much physical activity do adults need?” [Last reviewed: October 7, 2020]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on May 25, 2021 from: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
- Hung, Amy et al. “Association of Body Mass Index With Incidence and Progression of Knee Effusion on MRI and on Knee Examination.” Arthritis care & research vol. 68,4 (2016): 511-6. doi:10.1002/acr.22714