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Swollen Knee Joint

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What do I need to know about a swollen knee joint?

A swollen knee joint may be caused by arthritis or by an injury or trauma, such as a knee sprain. It may also happen if you exercise too much. It may be painful to bend or straighten your knee, or walk.

How is a swollen knee joint diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and any medical conditions you have. He or she will also ask if you have had any recent injuries. He or she will examine your knee and check how well it moves in different directions. You may need blood tests or x-rays to find the cause of the swelling. Your provider may also remove fluid from your knee joint and send it to a lab for tests.

How is a swollen knee joint treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your swollen knee joint. Your healthcare provider may recommend any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Rest your knee. Avoid activities that make the swelling or pain worse. You may need to avoid putting weight on your knee while you have pain. Crutches, a cane, or a walker can be used to avoid putting weight on your knee while it heals.
  • Apply ice to your knee to help relieve pain and swelling. Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your knee. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Compress your knee with a brace or bandage to help reduce swelling. Use a brace or bandage only as directed.
  • Elevate your knee above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your joint on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Apply heat to your knee to relieve pain. Apply heat for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain.
  • Go to physical therapy if directed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your knee locks or gives way and you fall.
  • Your feet or toes start to look pale or feel cold.
  • You cannot bear weight on your leg, or you have severe pain even after treatment.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have redness or warmth over your knee.
  • The swelling does not decrease with treatment.
  • It gets harder or more painful to straighten your leg at the knee.
  • Your knee weakens, or you continue to limp.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.