swollen knee

What Causes A Swollen Knee (And How Can You Stop It)

In Lower Extremity Pains by Royce Bowman, PT, Director

A swollen knee (also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome) can cause extreme pain in the joint area. But what causes knee swelling? And how does physical therapy help relieve it? Find out in this article on knee inflammation symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Types of knee inflammation

  • Traumatic Swelling – occurs as a result of a traumatic injury to the knee or surrounding structures.
  • Knee Osteoarthritis – happens when the cartilage of the knee degenerates. This can lead to increased production of fluid in the joint.
  • Baker’s Cyst – develops when a bursa in the back of the knee fills with excess fluid.
  • Bursitis – the bursae are fluid-filled sacs in the knee that help to provide cushion and decrease friction between bone and soft tissue. These bursae can become inflamed causing them to fill with excess fluid.

What causes a swollen knee?

  • Injury – a meniscus tear, torn ligaments (in particular, the ACL), overuse, blunt force from a fall, or a fracture/break.
  • Osteoarthritis – as cartilage wears down, joint fluid can get overproduced and cause swelling. Often, this leads to discomfort and pain. Other types of arthritis which can cause swelling in the knee in rheumatoid, septic, and reactive arthritis.
  • Bursitis – the bursae are fluid-filled sacs in the knee that help to provide cushion and decrease friction between bone and soft tissue. These bursae can become inflamed causing them to fill with excess fluid.
  • Gout – this is a condition which is caused by an accumulation of uric acid within the joint.  Swelling often occurs at night while lying in bed. Gout most often occurs in the big toe, but can also present in the knee, heel, ankle, and foot.
  • Pseudogout- this is a condition which is caused by an accumulation of calcium pryophosphate crystals within the joint. This condition is most common in the knee, but can present in the shoulder, ankle, wrist, fingers, spine, or hips.
  • Osgood Schlatter – describes a condition in which the patellar tendon of the knee becomes inflamed. This condition is most common in active adolescents and young adults in their 20’s.
  • Baker’s Cyst- this occurs when a bursa in the back of the knee fills with excess fluid.
  • Obesity, age, sports activities, and overuse can contribute to or cause a swollen knee.

How a swollen knee affects your range of motion

Range of motion can be affected especially when swelling occurs in or near the joint. Increased swelling can also cause pain which limits the individual’s range of motion.

Swelling is known to cause inhibition of both motor and sensory neurons. This means that muscles lose the ability to fully fire leading to problems with movement.

It also leads to decreased proprioception, or a person’s ability to sense where they are in space leading to balance deficits and potential falls.

In addition to decreased range of motion, the skin around the knee swells and becomes puffy. We’ve seen instances where swelling causes pants to fight tightly and, in some cases, not fitting at all.

Also, fluid buildup causes stiffness which creates difficulty extending or bending your leg. Excess fluid presses on nerve endings which, in turn, causes pain. Pain can grow to a level of making it difficult to stand.

“This place has improved my quality of life! I have recommended several people. The staff is great and treatment is superb! My husband is in therapy here now and he has also improved. Royce has been my go to therapist for years! One couldn’t find anyone better…” – Connie Harrison

How to reduce knee inflammation quickly

Take a break – rest your knee and avoid weight bearing activities. You’ll help your knee begin recovery from swelling. While you’re resting, elevate your knee above your heart. Use pillows or a leg elevation pillow. This helps drain away fluid from around the knee and reduces pain.

Ice your knee for 15-20 minutes. Put ice in a sealable plastic bag, wrap with a towel, and place on your knee. You’ll slow blood flow while decreasing swelling. Using a compression ice pack works well, too.

NSAIDS – over the counter products, ibuprofen or naproxen, reduce knee joint swelling and relieve pain. If you require something stronger due to extreme knee pain, consult with your physician.

Massaging your knee – can help drain excess fluid. When you visit us, you’ll learn the proper technique you can use at home.

Getting Treatment

Before we start treatment, you’ll want to know the reasons for your knee swelling.

First, we’ll get an idea of potential causes. We’ll look at your gait to see if walking or running puts undue stress on your knee.

We’ll check your knee structure through palpation to determine the origin of your knee pain and swelling. Also, we’ll look at your range of motion in order to determine the proper therapies to help you heal.

You’ll get exercises which build strength around your knee joint while decreasing the swelling.

Get started today

Do you have questions about your first visit or insurance? You can schedule an appointment by calling or completing our HIPAA compliant appointment form.

swollen knee

 

 

About the Author

Royce Bowman, PT, Director