How To Know If Your Knee Pain Is Serious
Usually, pain in the knee wont be a sign of anything serious. However, it might require medical attention if the pain is very severe, doesnt get better, or is accompanied by other symptoms.
The NHS recommends seeing a GP if:
- Your knee pain doesnt get better after several weeks
- Your knee locks or gives way, or is clicking painfully
You should seek more urgent help usually by calling 111 if your knee:
- Is very painful
- Is very swollen or has changed shape
- Is too sore, stiff or weak for you to move it or put any weight on it
- Is hot or red especially if you are also feeling feverish, with a high temperature
Complications Of A Swollen Knee
You may develop a Baker’s cyst. This is when joint fluid leaks out into the back of the knee and causes pain and swelling. Treatment usually involves compression and applying ice packs. However, if your swelling is severe, you may need to have the fluid removed using a fine needle.
You may lose muscle mass, especially in your thigh muscles. This is because fluid in your swollen knee can prevent your thigh muscles from working properly over time this causes them to weaken and deteriorate.
When To Contact A Doctor
Below are guidelines to help people decide if their knee swelling requires medical attention. If the person is still unsure whether to seek professional medical treatment, a phone call to a doctor or nurse can help determine whether an office visit is necessary.
A doctor should be contacted if:
- The knee is severely swollen or has a pronounced abnormality
- The knee cannot fully straighten or fully bend
- The knee is severely painful
- The person cannot bear weight on the knee, or feels as if the knee is going to “give out”
- The skin over the knee turns hot or red
- The person has a fever of 100.4° F or higher
- Knee swelling has been present for 3 days or longer
A doctor will examine the patient’s knee and ask the patient several questions. The physical examination and patient interview may provide enough information to make an accurate diagnosis. If more information is needed, the doctor may recommend medical imaging, such as an x-ray, or removing fluid from the knee using an in-office procedure called aspiration.
Seek immediate care if the leg swelling occurs suddenly with no known reason, particularly if it is accompanied by symptoms such as leg pain, chest pain, and/or problems breathing, as these may be signs of a life-threatening blood clot.
You May Like: How To Prepare For Knee Replacement Surgery
What Else Can Help With Knee Pain
Finding relief from knee pain depends on the cause or issue thats making it difficult for you to go about your daily activities. Carrying excess weight puts extra stress on your knees, which may lead to osteoarthritis.
In this case, the most effective treatment, according to the Cleveland Clinic, is weight loss. Your doctor may recommend a combination of diet and exercise to help you lose weight and strengthen the muscles in your lower body, especially around your knees.
A 2013 study found that adults with overweight and knee osteoarthritis experienced a reduction in weight and knee pain after 18 months of a diet and exercise program.
But if overuse is the culprit, your doctor will likely suggest RICE which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation and physical therapy. A physical therapist can work with you to develop a program that includes range of motion exercises, stretches, and muscle strengthening movements.
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.
Its 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 systems response that heals the tissues in the first place. So, it might be best to use ice only if youre 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.
But if you have knee osteoarthritis, try using a heating pad instead.
Also Check: What To Take For Knee Joints
Types Of Knee Swelling
Knee swelling usually develops in one of four ways:
Let’s have a look at the features of each and then we’ll look at the common causes.
1. Rapid Knee Swelling After An Injury
A swollen knee that develops immediately after an injury, within minutes, is usually due to haemarthrosis, where blood accumulates in the joint. Essentially what happens is that a structure inside the knee gets damaged and starts to bleed. The blood pools inside the capsule building up pressure in the joint.
Knee swelling after an injury is normally profuse and the knee typically balloons very quickly. It will feel tense and very sore and is often accompanied by bruising, although that may take longer to develop. A sudden, swollen knee caused by a haemarthrosis needs urgent medical attention.
2. Delayed Knee Swelling After An Injury
If a swollen knee develops anything from a few hours to a few days after an injury, it is most likely due to an increase in the synovial fluid in the joint a knee effusion.
3. Gradual Knee Swelling Without An Injury
4. Rapid Knee Swelling Without An Injury
Home Treatment For Swollen Knees
It is important to consult with your physician before choosing a treatment plan. If advised by your doctor, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can aid in treating minor cases of knee swelling. Usually, these cases are due to knee osteoarthritis, non-septic knee bursitis, or a minor injury.
The RICE formula can also work. RICE is rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
- Rest: Rest for a period of 24 hours or longer to give the joint time to recover.
- Ice: Icing the area for 20 minutes three to four times per day can help decrease swelling and aid in healing. It is important to avoid putting ice directly on the skin.
- Compression: Wrapping the knee with an elastic bandage can help to limit swelling, but make sure it is not too tight.
- Elevation: Elevate the knee to help reduce blood flow to the area, which can help to reduce the swelling.
With RICE, swelling often goes down in one to three days.
You May Like: Why Are My Knees Burning
Questions To Ask The Doctor
Once you have gotten the appointment, its essential you ask all the necessary questions:
- What is the cause of these symptoms?
- What sort of tests do I need?
- What types of treatment are available?
- I have several other health conditionscan they be treated together?
Furthermore, in order to get a better view of the knee, you may need to request a certain test, depending on the cause.
- X-ray: An x-ray can help rule out broken or bones, and can determine if you have arthritis.
- Ultrasound: Ultrasounds can determine arthritis and other disorders that may be affecting the tendons or ligaments.
- MRI: An MRI can detect anything that an x-ray misses, such as torn ligaments or torn tissues.
You should never try and diagnose your own injuries. If the natural methods dont work, or if the swelling continues and the pain becomes severe to the point where no weight can be placed on it, then contact your doctor immediately. The longer the injury is left untreated, the worse the injury can become.
How Often Should I Use Ice Or Heat For Joint Pain
As long as youre being smart about which therapy you use and careful about how to use it, Dr. Torres-Panchame says they are okay to use repetitively throughout the day.
It doesnt need to be a formal sit-on-the-couch-with-your-leg-up type of treatment. You may find youre already benefitting from thermal therapy without even realizing it. If taking a hot shower or bath every morning is very soothing to your joints, then youre already reaping the benefits of heat therapy.
Other patients say that washing their hands with hotter-than-usual water is a quick way to sooth their hands throughout the day. Some people report that they actually like washing dishes after meals because its an easy way to use heat therapy.
Don’t Miss: How To Rebuild Knee Cartilage
When To Use Heat For Joint Pain
Heat tends to be more beneficial for the types of everyday joint pain, such as stiffness, that people with arthritis experience. You can use dry heat, like from a heating pad, or moist heat, like from a moist towel warmed up in the microwave for 20 to 60 seconds. Moist heat tends to transfer through the skin more quickly and efficiently, Dr. Torres-Panchame says.
How to Use Heat for Joint Pain
As a guideline, dont apply heat to an area of your body for more than 20 minutes at a time or you could risk burning your skin. As with ice, dont put a heated object on your skin without some kind of protective barrier, like a cloth or towel. Heat also can follow ice therapy once the cold brings down swelling and inflammation, Dr. Torres-Panchame says.
As with ice, being careful and attentive is important to prevent injury. If something feels too warm, then probably its too warm, Dr. Bose says. So the temperature needs to be comfortable, ideally, not too hot, because it can burn your skin.
Types of Heat Therapy
Safety with Heat Therapy
Check your skin after five minutes to make sure there are no signs of burns and check again a few times while using heat, Dr. Torres-Panchame says. If you start seeing blisters forming, that is too hot. You need to remove the heat or else you can cause skin damage, she said.
This is especially important for people who have neuropathy or any other condition that makes them less sensitive to touch and temperature.
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.
You May Like: How To Soothe Knee Pain
Different Types Of Arthritis
The knee is the joint where the bones of the lower and upper legs connect. It moves like a hinge, allowing you to sit, squat, walk or jump. The basic anatomy of the knee consists of three bones: the femur, tibia, and patella. The ends of the bones are covered with a layer of cartilage – a slick, elastic material that absorbs shock and allows the bones to glide easily against one another as they move. Different types of arthritis affect this joint differently.
Contact Us For An Appointment
*At Wimbledon Clinics we comply with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulations and the Data Protection Act . We will never share your data without your permission and we will only use your data how youve asked us to. Please let us know if youd like to join our mailing list to receive updates about our specialist consultants, the latest treatments for orthopaedic and sports injuries and prevention tips for common injuries.
For more information,
Swelling in the knee most commonly develops after an injury but there are a number of different possible causes to consider. The diagnosis will depend on the cause so, to get an idea, its important to consider events leading up to the swelling as well as how quickly it came on.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of swelling within the knee.
The knee lining, or synovium, produces fluid containing nutrients and lubricants to keep knee cartilage nice and healthy.
The first type of knee swelling, sometimes called an effusion, is where the synovium manufactures excess fluid, which makes the knee appear to be swollen.
The second type is caused by bleeding in the knee that can follow some kind of trauma to the ligaments, the tough bands of tissue that connect the femur to the tibia .
Bleeding in the knee can also follow a bone fracture or a trauma to one of the two meniscus cartilages that lie between the major bones of the knee.
Here are the five main instances of swelling to the knee:
Read Also: What Are The Best Shoes For Knee Pain
Preserve Knee Function With Exercise & Changes In Your Lifestyle
Exercise, including water aerobics, strength training, and yoga, can help preserve knee function to ultimately relieve pain and swelling. The same exercises will help you lose weight, lessening the pressure on your knees. Exercise also helps maintain full range of motion in the knee joints, strengthens the muscles supporting the joints, and absorbs shock impacting the joints.
Walking is the most beneficial form of exercise. Its low-impact, and because its a weight-bearing exercise, it helps strengthen muscles and builds bones. Start out slow, gradually increasing your pace and distance for best results. Water exercises or walking in the shallow end of the pool are also great for muscle strength and knee flexibility. Because the body is buoyant in water, it lessens impact to near zero as it makes you work a little harder to move.
Symptoms Of A Swollen Knee
- Swelling: The skin around the knee will swell up at a noticeable rate. Compare it to your other knee to see the difference.
- Stiffness: Your ability to straighten or bend your knee fully can be affected if excess fluid builds up.
- Pain: Depending on the root cause of the excess build up, you may experience severe pain in the knee joint, to the point where putting any weight on it will be unbearable.
Read Also: Why Do I Get Sharp Pains In My Knee
How Is The Cause Of Knee Swelling Diagnosed
Your doctor will ask you questions about your pain. These may include:
- What is the exact location of the pain the front of the knee, the back, the inside, the outside, above or below the kneecap?
- Do you feel better or worse at certain times of day?
- Does it hurt more when youre walking up or down stairs?
- How does it hurt? Is it a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain?
- Is the knee range of motion decreased?
Along with these questions your doctor will physically examine the knee and afterward suggest the next step in terms of diagnosing the exact problem. You may have a blood test or fluid taken from the knee with a needle for lab examination. Imaging tests may also be used to diagnose your condition.
What Are Heat And Ice Therapy
Simply put, heat therapy and ice therapy also known as thermal therapy mean applying something hot or cold to an affected area, which can affect how your body responds to pain, stiffness, and other arthritis symptoms.
Many arthritis patients swear by both heat and ice as part of their treatment plan whether for osteoarthritis, which is wear and tear to a joint that occurs when the cartilage breaks down, or inflammatory types of arthritis, which is when inflammatory chemicals from an overactive immune attack the joint.
For Eddie A., who has psoriatic arthritis, warm baths are a go-to part of his self-care routine. In fact, before he was diagnosed with PsA, he would find himself needing to sit in the tub for 30 to 45 minutes each morning before work just to loosen up my hands, he recalls.
Heat and ice are everything for me, Deanna K., who also has psoriatic arthritis, told CreakyJoints.
In its latest treatment guidelines for the management of osteoarthritis, the American College of Rheumatology conditionally recommends thermal interventions for osteoarthritis in the knee, hip, or hand, for example. In other words, theres likely little harm in trying it, but its not a magic bullet.
Even though heat and cold are opposites, they can both reduce inflammation and ease pain and stiffness around the joints. They do so in different ways and may have different uses. That said, there is little scientific research on when to use one form over another.
Read Also: How To Prepare For Total Knee Replacement
Ice Or Heat: Which Is Best For A Swollen Knee
Knee pain is one of the most common and debilitating joint issues, affecting millions of people on a daily basis. Whether the pain is caused by an acute injury like a tear or overuse, or its the result of too much weight or regular wear and tear, there are a number of structures in the knee joint itself that can be the source of the pain. Weve all heard of icing for pain, but sometimes, heat is a much better source of relief. When it comes to painful, swollen knee treatments, which is best, ice or heat?