How to Treat a Swollen Knee | Quickly Reduce Swelling With These Steps

Written By on February 4, 2021 — Medically Reviewed By Kristopher Ceniza

Written by on February 4, 2021 — Medically Reviewed By: Kristopher Cenzia

A swollen knee is actually a very common problem amongst people of all ages. In most cases, this type of injury can be taken care of in the comfort of your own home. Here we will look at the different ways that you can treat a swollen knee including;

  • The R.I.C.E method
  • Medication
  • When should you contact your doctor?
  • When the knee may begin to heal
  • How to treat a swollen knee injury
  • Massage which can assist knee injury

If the swelling affects the leg as well as the knee you should seek medical advice immediately.

This can be a sign of a significant health problem and professional medical assistance is essential.

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If swelling occurs suddenly or for no known reason then again the doctor should be contacted.

This is especially true in the case that it is accompanied by leg pain, chest pain, or problems breathing. These may all be signs of a life-threatening blood clot.

1. The R.I.C.E. Formula

The R.I.C.E method, or rest ice compression and elevation, is a tried and tested treatment for many injuries.

Rest gives the joint time to repair and recover. At this time you should take a break from strenuous activities. This includes sports and other activities, for at least 24 hours.

Knee Force Knee Sleeve

Rest does not mean keeping the knee immobile. The knee should still be stretched, flexed, and straightened to improve range of motion.

Then apply ice as an easy and effective treatment for excess knee swelling. Cold therapy can help ease symptoms by causing blood vessels to constrict, decreasing blood flow and inflammation.

The R.I.C.E method, or rest ice compression and elevation, is a tried and tested treatment for many injuries

This slows down fluid production in the knee joint. Synovial joint fluid is generally helpful when the body is healthy, but it can cause swelling and discomfort.

When applying the cold compress it should not be on the joint for longer than 20 minutes at a time. It can be done several times a day.

Ice should also not be applied directly to the skin. Skin damage is prevented by placing a towel or other material between the icepack and the skin for 15 to 20 minutes.

For people with Raynaud’s Syndrome or nerve damage, cold therapy may not be appropriate.

With these conditions, medical advice should be sought before beginning the R.I.C.E method.

Compression involves wrapping the affected joint with an elastic bandage, for example, an Ace bandage.

Compression may help in limiting or reducing swelling and in turn pain.

A bandage that is 3 to 4 inches wide is recommended. A bandage with a smaller width can cut off the circulation.

If the bandage feels too tight around the joint then re-wrap or loosens it.

A bandage that is too tight can increase the swelling and cause numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling.

The compression bandage does not act to support the knee or protect it from further injury.

Finally, elevating the affected joint can help to reduce the blood flow to the knee and help alleviate inflammation, swelling, and discomfort.

The affected leg should ideally be elevated above the heart. To do so, lie down with the knee and calf propped up on a few pillows.

Using a stool or ottoman is considered less effective as the knee in this position is lower than the heart.

People who experience chronic knee swelling may consider the purchase of a leg elevation pillow. They are made of foam and are specifically designed to provide firm and comfortable support.

2. Over-the-counter Medication

While it is not necessary for the healing process, over-the-counter medication can relieve the pain that is associated with knee swelling and pain.

over-the-counter medication can relieve the pain that is associated with knee swelling and pain

The most common OTC medication for knee pain include;

  • NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen for both pain and swelling
  • Acetaminophen or Tylenol for just pain
  • Topical salicylates medication applied directly to the skin over the affected area to reduce pain and swelling, such as Aspercreme and Sportscreme

Topical salicylates give small doses of anti-inflammatory medications that are similar to the chemical composition of aspirin.

Knee Force Knee Sleeve

These are generally recommended for arthritis joint pain. Any topical medications should not be used on the cut or cracked skin, or if it is infected or sporting a rash.

When to contact your doctor

There are several symptoms that imply you should see a doctor or medical professional. These include;

  • Severe swelling
  • Pronounced abnormality
  • If you can not straighten or fully bend the knee
  • Severe pain, not adequately treated by OTC medications
  • If you can not bear weight on the knee
  • The skin over the knee is hot or red
  • Having a fever of 100.4° F or more
  • Knee swelling for 3 days or longer
see a doctor or medical professional

From here the doctor will examine the knee pain and ask several important questions. It begins with a physical examination accompanied by a patient interview so that enough information is collected to make an accurate diagnosis.

If sufficient information is not available then you may need additional medical imaging, for example, an x-ray, or aspiration. This in-office procedure involves removing fluid buildup from the knee.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take for knee swelling to go down?

Knee swelling should not last for more than a few days. For moderate knee swelling using the R.I.C.E method usually causes the swelling to reduce in 1 to 3 days on average. If the swelling does not go down in this time then it is recommended that you visit your doctor as the injury could be severe and require medical attention.

What causes knee swelling?

Basically, a swollen knee is a symptom of excess fluid in or around your knee joint. Doctors typically refer to this as effusion in your knee joint.

You may also hear the term ‘water on the knee’ used to describe the fluid build-up. This can be caused by many different things including trauma, overuse injuries, as well as underlying diseases or conditions that you may have.

To determine the cause of the swelling in the knee the doctor may opt to take a fluid sample for testing.

Will fluid on the knee go away?

In some cases, the build-up of fluid in the knee can form what is known as a Baker’s cyst. When swollen this cyst can be quite painful, but with icing and compression, it can improve significantly.

If the swelling becomes too severe you may need to have it removed. This can be done by the doctor in a procedure called cyst aspiration.

How do I massage my knee to reduce swelling?

There are many techniques that can be used to reduce the swelling of the knee. The most common are;

Deep strokes
Lymphatic drainage

Massage can be used to help kickstart the healing process. It enhances circulation around the affected area.

Effleurage is a great way to begin reducing the swelling of the knees. It involves applying gentle pressure to the area using flattened hands and fingers.

The soft and gentle pressure is used throughout effleurage means that even the most tender areas can be treated.

It gently pushes the excess fluids in the swollen area towards the glands where they can be evacuated to different areas. This includes the armpit, groin, and behind the knee.

Deep strokes can also help to effectively reduce swelling. Like effleurage, it is also performed using flattened hands and fingers.

The pressure is a lot firmer than in the effleurage so that it gets deeper within the muscle fibers. It is used on swelling that has occurred for a long time and is no longer tender to the touch.

Firm pressure is used during deep strokes to allow the therapist to get deeper into the muscles to push and remove the excess fluid and waste products away from the swollen area.

It can create friction between the skin and the fingers, helping to stimulate the blood and lymph flow.

Lymphatic drainage is also very effective to minimise knee swelling. It involves applying pressure to the area in upwards movements in the direction of the glands.

The most well-known type of gland is of course the sweat glands. Lymphatic drainage is most commonly used on acute swelling to remove metabolic wastes from the area.

Mitch Torres (PT)
Mitch is a physical therapist, personal trainer, and nutrition coach. Fascinated with the knee joint, Mitch poured that passion into writing about knee pain and how to overcome it with movement. His goal is to teach you how to apply this knowledge into your daily life, so you can keep knee pain away for good.