What Causes Swollen Knee

As humans, we need our knees for everything: To get out of bed, to walk, to sit. They carry our body weight and allow us to move our legs. They let us bend down, play sports, and go up and down stairs. In short, having knee issues seriously limits the amount of activities we can do throughout our day.  Even something as simple as getting into a bathtub can become difficult.

Knee Anatomy 101

The knees are our biggest and most complex joints: The femur (thigh bone) connects to the tibia (the shin bone), with the patella (the round portion of the knee) nestled between them. To ensure smooth movement of the joint, there’s cartilage between these components, all held in place by tendons and ligaments.

Symptoms of a Knee Injury

When a knee swells, it’s due to excess fluid accumulating in the joint.

While a swollen knee makes it obvious that you have an injury, there are additional signs that may come with the swelling, such as:

  • Knee pain
  • Tenderness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Inability to bear weight on the affected knee
  • Pain that radiates to the rest of the leg.

Potential Causes of a Swollen Knee

1. Trauma

When a person has experienced trauma (whether by being struck, being involved in an accident, or suffering a fall), he or she will usually be able to determine what has caused the knee to swell. However, it’s important to seek medical attention to determine whether the inflammation is occurring due to a fracture, torn tendon, bursitis, or a meniscus tear. Each requires different treatments.

2. Overuse

Between bones, muscles, and tendons are fluid-filled sacs called bursa. They serve as cushions, and along with cartilage, allow for painless movement. However, when a person performs continuous, repetitive motions for an extended period of time, bursa may become irritated and swell. When this happens, the knee will also feel warm to the touch.

Repetitive motion can also cause patellar tendinitis, which starts gradually. The patient will typically start feeling pain during physical activity. This is a sign that the tendon is suffering from small tears. The best way to treat it is to take time to rest and ice the knee. If you’re a runner, switch your running shoes to a pair that serves you better.

If the condition is more severe, you may need anti-inflammatory medications and a knee brace. But above all, take time off from the repetitive movement. Seek medical attention to find out if you need additional treatment.

3. Obesity

Knee pain is one of the most common ailments of people who are obese. This is because each pound of weight equals four pounds of stress on the knee joints. In addition to increasing the likelihood of inflammation, it also increases the risk of developing osteoarthritis (which in itself can cause swelling, as explained below).

4. Osteoarthritis

This type of arthritis occurs when stress on the joints causes the cartilage to break down. When this happens, the reduced amount of cushioning will cause pain when moving your knee. It also increases the risk of developing bone spurs. It is more likely to happen to people who have occupations where they regularly have to kneel, bend down, and lift heavy weight. It’s also more likely to happen in women and in people of advanced age. It’s often accompanied with a cracking sound upon bending the knee.

5. Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your own immune system attacks the tissues around your joints. In addition to joint pain, a person suffering from it typically experiences fatigue and fever. Smoking, obesity, and having a family history of rheumatoid arthritis increases the chances of developing it. While there is no cure for it, your doctor may recommend physical therapy exercises that will aid in keeping your knee joints flexible.

6. Hemophilia

Hemophilia is a disease that doesn’t allow the blood to clot normally and may cause internal bleeding. One of its most common side effects is joint damage. This is due to blood vessels bleeding into the knee joint.

Some of the most common signs of hemophilia include blood in urine and stool, nosebleeds, excessive bleeding when you get a small cut, deep and unexplainable bruising.

Diagnosis and Treatment of a Swollen Knee

When a person is experiencing a swollen knee, the doctor may either take a sample of the fluid inside the knee, or order X-rays or an MRI to confirm a diagnosis. If it’s a minor injury, the medical provider may recommend rest, icing, compression, and elevation of the knee (RICE therapy).

Depending on severity, the doctor may also recommend medication, steroid injections, or physical therapy. In extreme cases, a patient may require surgery.

Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today

At The Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If you’re experiencing knee inflammation, let us help you. We’ll tailor a treatment plan that’s best for your lifestyle and get you back to doing the things you love.

Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.

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