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Swelling in Knee
Common causes of knee swelling, how to get a swollen knee diagnosis, and information on knee swelling treatment options.
by Brad Chase
According to the University of Michigan Guidelines for Clinical Care, one of the most common conditions affecting the knees is knee swelling, particularly knee swelling due to osteoarthritis. Knee swelling is when one knee appears to swell up and appear larger than the original knee.
Knee swelling is generally associated with pain and immobility, and can be caused by both temporary conditions and a variety of illnesses/diseases and permanent injuries. Correct diagnosis is crucial for treatment and further prevention.
"Swelling" is a blanket term to refer to any increase in size of a part of your body. In the case of knee swelling, most visual swelling is caused by either inflammation (an immune system response that increases the size of your tissues and causes them to redden) or fluid buildup (fluid that gathers in a would or joint without draining). When the cause of knee swelling is fluid, it's known as knee effusion, or "water in the knee."
Contrary to popular belief, the fluid that builds up within the knee is not water. However, the type of fluid depends on the problem. For example, a common cause of water in the knee is gout. Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid.
Most knee effusion is caused by the development of a "bursa," or a fluid filled sac. The sac fills with synovial fluid, which is a fluid designed to keep your joints lubricated.
Other types of knee effusion may be caused by blood buildup. Most often, blood buildup is the result of a specific injury.
For most patients, knee effusion tends to manifest itself in the same way regardless of the cause. That is why proper diagnosis is so important for treatment.
On rare occasions knee swelling may be caused by a tumor. There are over a dozen different tumors that lead to swollen knees, including:
Knee tumors are fairly rare and one of the least likely medical conditions to affect the knee. However, knee tumors do cause knee effusion, so they are likely to be tested by a doctor to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Generally, a doctor will go through your history and determine how or why the knee effusion occurred. Your personal history will help the physician rule out issues like trauma.
Also, the doctor will discuss your symptoms with you, along with what occurred before and during the knee swelling.
For example, if your knee appeared to simply "give out" on you, it may be an ACL tear. If you often use your knees repetitively while lifting, it may be the result of overuse.
Swollen knees will also be compared to the un-swollen knee to determine an accurate diagnosis. An ultrasound may also be used to diagnose knee effusion causes.
Swelling in the knees rarely occurs on its own. Usually it's accompanied by other symptoms that may disrupt your life. These include:
Each of these symptoms is important for both an accurate diagnosis and an accurate treatment.
The proper treatment for knee swelling depends on the disorder. When the knee is badly injured or a tumor is present, the knee may require surgery. However, most swollen knees will be treated with one or more of the following:
Knee swelling prevention is also possible. Consuming nutrients that improve knee health can be incredibly beneficial for warding off issues like osteoarthritis. Weight loss can help as well, since obesity may lead to pressure on the knees.
It's also important to avoid repetitive motion, and respond to your body quickly – if you feel any light pain while, don't ignore the pain and reduce pressure on your knee. Responding quickly can help you avoid future injury.
In addition to natural treatments, there are a few strategies you can try to reduce knee swelling in your home. These include:
Should your symptoms appear to get worse while on these home remedies, or if you are concerned that your knee pain/knee swelling is not subsiding, it's a good idea to contact a doctor and have them check for a more serious problem.
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