How to reduce swelling in the knee quickly? Should you buy an elastic bandage for compression? Or just put ice on it? Do you take an anti-inflammatory as well?
Having swollen knees can be bothersome and painful. Thankfully, rest and home care treatment is enough for most people to manage that excess of fluid.
Make sure you know the cause of the swelling. You may need to see a doctor to explore other treatment options and prevent it from happening again.
In the meantime, follow these steps and you’ll be good to go!
4 steps to reduce your knee swelling quickly with home care
1. Compress the knee joint
Compression will help you reduce the swelling quickly. The safest way to do this is with either an elastic bandage (or a compression bandage) or a knee sleeve.
This shouldn’t add to your knee pain. But, if it does, your bandage or sleeve might be wrapped too tight.
This should help you get the right-sized sleeve: 3 Steps to Measure Knee Sleeves
Elevating the knee will reduce pain and swelling, as your body won’t have to fight against gravity to reduce the inflammation.
Raise the swollen knee with some pillows while you’re lying down and elevate it with a chair or a stool while sitting.
Avoid using your knees too much for the first three days or so after injury to reduce the risk of aggravating the problem.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean spending all day in bed as it can also weaken your muscles and other tissues.
“Rest should be minimised as prolonged rest can compromise tissue strength and quality. Pain signals should guide the cessation of protection.” – Dubois et al, 2020
4. Do gentle exercises with your knees
Try this exercise a few times throughout the day to reduce the swelling:
- Lie down and extend the injured knee with a pillow or a towel under the joint.
- Then, try to push the pillow against the bed with the backside of your knee joint. This will activate your quadriceps muscles.
- Repeat 10-15 times, holding it for a few seconds.
This is called a quadriceps setting exercise which, as you might have guessed, works the quadriceps – one of the biggest muscles that support your knee.
Doing this will increase the blood flow to your knee and help to get rid of the inflammation.
What if you ice your knee?
Putting an ice pack on top of your knee is one of the most common home remedies to manage the swelling and other symptoms of a fresh injury.
It’s become popular due to the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Nowadays, athletes use cold therapy after games to help with recovery.
However, some research suggests that this might suppress the immune system’s response that heals the tissues in the first place.(1,2) So, it might be best to use ice only if you’re experiencing severe pain.
Do this in bouts of ~10 minutes, 2-3 times per day to allow your tissue-repairing cells to do their job.(2)
But if you have knee osteoarthritis, try using a heating pad instead.
What about over-the-counter medications?
Doctors have been widely suggesting the use of OTC drugs for the treatment of knee swelling.
Some common examples include like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin and they all help you manage your pain with their anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.
Which one is best, you ask? Research suggests acetaminophen and ibuprofen may provide the same results, at least in fresh injuries.(3)
If possible, follow the steps above to manage the excess knee fluid before taking an anti-inflammatory drug.
Other things to try
Here are other treatment options to reduce the swelling on your knees:
- Go to a physiotherapist or a massage therapist to help you reduce the swelling.
- If the swelling didn’t happen after a knee injury, you could try a gentle self-massage.
- Walk a little to activate your leg muscles so they can help you drain the inflammation.
Why does knee swelling happen?
Swelling is one of the ways our bodies respond to damage. It’s there to help increase the blood flow to the injured area which, in turn, also brings in more of your body’s cells that promote recovery.
In people without health issues, knee swelling can happen because of:
- Falling on the knee joints.
- Changes in your workout.
- Standing and/or walking more than you’re used to.
- After doing intense physical activity, like moving to a new place.
- A knee injury, like a ligament tear. This may require an X-Ray or MRI to evaluate the size of the injury and plan your recovery.
Identify the root cause of the inflammation so you can treat it properly.
Other causes of knee swelling
Go to a doctor if the swelling appeared out of nowhere. It could be a symptom of a health problem like:
- Knee osteoarthritis, an overuse injury of the knee joint cartilage.
- Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder characterized by swelling of the joints.
- Deep vein thrombosis, a medical emergency where a blood clot forms within the deep veins of the leg.
How long does it take for knee swelling to go down?
How soon swelling goes away depends on what caused it.
If it happened after doing too much physical activity, it could take a few days if you follow the steps above.
For tears of the ligaments or meniscus, it’s best to ask your doctor for individual details.
For rheumatoid arthritis, the swelling sadly comes and goes. It’s best to treat the flare-ups with medication.(6)
Will the fluid on my knee go away?
Yes, the water on your knees will go away if you:
- Don’t have any health issues,
- Protect, rest, compress, elevate, and gently exercise your knees, and
- Treat the root cause of the swelling
If you’re feeling anxious or fearful about the swelling, visit your physical therapist or your doctor. Clarifying your doubts and getting some reassurance can also help you to fully recover!(1)
Is walking good for my swollen knee?
As long as it’s not painful and you don’t see a sudden increase of swelling or other symptoms, you’re good to go.
Try walking for a few minutes at a time first to check how you feel and go from there.
When to go to a doctor?
If you have too much pain, go to a doctor to check what’s going on and get a prescription pain reliever if necessary.
Also, go to a doctor if:
- The knee swelling doesn’t decrease in 3 days.
- The swelling gets worse.
- You have severe pain.
- You can’t bear weight on the knee.
- The knee joint feels like giving out.
- You have pain when rising from a squat position.
- You don’t have the complete range of motion on your knee.
- You have knee noises that weren’t there before.
- You have a fever.
- The back of the knee is red/darkened and warm to the touch.
- You have visibly swollen veins, sometimes painful to touch.
Conclusion: How to reduce knee swelling fast
Inflammation is not inherently bad. It’s part of how our bodies work and helps us heal.
However, it can be bothersome. So, here’s a recap to reduce the excess fluid fast:
- Compress, elevate, protect, and move the knee joint according to your symptoms.
- Use the rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) method sparingly to manage pain. Too much can slow down your healing.
- Try to avoid taking any over-the-counter medication as well unless the pain is intolerable or if it prevents you from doing your daily activities.
Finally, here are some ways you can prevent having a swollen knee in the first place according to Mayo Clinic(9):
- Strengthen the muscles on your legs.
- Choose low-impact activities like walking or swimming.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Dubois, B., & Esculier, J. F. (2020). Soft-tissue injuries simply need PEACE and LOVE. British journal of sports medicine, 54(2), 72–73. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2019-101253
- Scialoia, D., & Swartzendruber, A. (2020). The R.I.C.E Protocol is a MYTH: A Review and Recommendations. The Sport Journal. Retrieved on May 12, 2021 from: https://thesportjournal.org/article/the-r-i-c-e-protocol-is-a-myth-a-review-and-recommendations/
- Hung, K., Graham, C. A., Lo, R., Leung, Y. K., Leung, L. Y., Man, S. Y., Woo, W. K., Cattermole, G. N., & Rainer, T. H. (2018). Oral paracetamol and/or ibuprofen for treating pain after soft tissue injuries: Single centre double-blind, randomised controlled clinical trial. PloS one, 13(2), e0192043. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0192043
- Gray, A. M., & Buford, W. L. (2015). Incidence of Patients With Knee Strain and Sprain Occurring at Sports or Recreation Venues and Presenting to United States Emergency Departments. Journal of athletic training, 50(11), 1190–1198. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-50.11.06
- Sprains and strains. [Last reviewed: 12 January 2018]. NHS. Retrieved on May 12, 2021 from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sprains-and-strains/
- Hsu H, Siwiec RM. Knee Osteoarthritis. [Updated 2020 Jun 29]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 12, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507884/
- Chauhan K, Jandu JS, Goyal A, et al. Rheumatoid Arthritis. [Updated 2020 Nov 5]. StatPearls. Retrieved on May 12, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441999/
- DVT (Deep vein thrombosis) [Updated 2019 October 23]. NHS. Retrieved on May 12, 2021 from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis-dvt/
- Swollen knee. [2020 Jun 17]. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on May 12, 2021 from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swollen-knee/symptoms-causes/syc-20378129